Some local governments opt out of new statute that allows for temporary tiny homes


Entrepreneurs Jesse Lammi and John Louiselle, both 25, stand inside a DropHome, a mobile home their New Brighton-based company, NextDoor Housing, offers individuals who need temporary living spaces next to family members who can care for them durning illness or recovery.

A New Brighton-based start up faced big challenges its first year in business, so its two young founders took on the law, so to speak, in order to ease the red tape that makes operating their business a bit of a hassle.

NextDoor Housing’s goal is to offer individuals who require temporary assisted living or transitional care a more affordable option than a stay at an institution after, say, a surgery. They do this by essentially setting a small mobile house outside a regular house. 

But not all cities are finding the new legislation favorable. 

 

Re-focusing the movement

Entrepreneurs Jesse Lammi and John Louiselle, both 25, founded NextDoor Housing in an attempt to utilize tiny houses as temporary dwelling spaces for individuals who need to be close to family for support through illness or recovery. 

Using their long-standing interest in modular-type housing and their experience with grandparents who could have used such an opportunity, the two men re-focused their idea of the tiny house movement. 

Tiny homes don’t have to singularly be for the young and sprightly or those wishing to downsize and live more simply, they explained. Lami and Louiselle think small spaces could also be for those who need support from family.  

They aim to park their DropHomes, furnished mobile homes — with bathrooms, kitchens and all — in the driveways and yards of relatives willing to care for their loved ones. 

 

Looking to legislation

Lami and Louiselle turned to the Minnesota Legislature after realizing that each city had ordinances, to some capacity or another, forbidding or restricting the placement of mobile homes and trailers on residential properties. 

As it stood, NextDoor Housing would have to go through the city council proceedings and convince council members across the state of the need for a tiny home case by case, with each case taking weeks or possibly months at a time.

That probably wouldn’t have been a problem for them if only a handful of folks were interested, however, dozens and dozens showed interest and requested to rent DropHomes, so much so that the company has had a waitlist for months. 

 

Rejected by Mounds View 

As part of the legislation, which was signed by Gov. Mark Dayton about a month ago, cities are given the opportunity to pass an ordinance to opt out. Otherwise, the new law will go in effect in September. 

Mounds View City Council approached the item at its last meeting, July 11, choosing to opt out of accepting Minnesota Statute 462.3593 in a 5-0 roll call vote.

Mounds View city administrator Jim Ericson said he spoke to multiple cities statewide — 35 in all — and found “the consensus was almost unanimous,” he said, explaining that the cities planned to opt out.

“A lot of communities are concerned that it infringes on a city’s right to zone and enact zoning,” Ericson said at the meeting. “There would be concerns about these [tiny home] units persisting beyond the 12 months. Concerns about who’s going to be regulating, confirming or verifying whether or not the person actually qualifies for the transitional care. There are a number of issues,” he added. 

After the council made its decision, Mayor Joe Flaherty shared his thoughts on why Mounds View officials made the decision they did. 

“This statute’s meaning is all great, and nobody disagrees,” he said, implying that the disabled, injured and aging need more affordable and convenient options for housing near loved ones. 

“Unfortunately, it was left too open-ended, with the possibility of abuse out there. I personally think that this is something that the cities themselves can deal with and enact an ordinance within the city-level to put some requirements on there. I just see it ripe for abuse,” Flaherty said.

 

Positive reaction

According to Louiselle, there’s a list of cities that have responded positively, in support of the new law, while many others have not yet looked at it. 

He said many cities are tailoring the law to fit their needs, which he is very supportive of, he said.

His purpose in helping draft the state law alongside legislators “was just to lay the groundwork,” he said.

“The cities that are positively responding to it are sort of the forward thinkers,” Louiselle said. “They see the need and they understand that the need is not going anywhere; it’s only going to increase.”

Louiselle and Lami are encouranging cities that have questions to reach out to them or the state senators and the representatives who sponsored the new legislation. 

“We’re not trying to ruffle city feathers; we’re trying to give them the power and tools they need to start helping their constituents.”

 

Enforcement concerns

“Everyone is concerned about enforcement,” Louiselle said. “If that’s the main concern and reasoning to opt out of a law, it’s really unfortunate. There’ll always be some people who are going to abuse any law.” 

According to Louiselle, as it is, many elderly residents have to leave the cities they call home in order to find a new place to live with supportive services, often far from family members, he explained.

Louiselle said he hopes cities can use the law and modify it to fit their needs.

“Otherwise supportive living can also be very costly,” Louiselle said, adding that with a rental fee of $1,250 per month, residents can stay near their loved ones, but also retain a personal and independent space for themselves in one of NextDoor Housing’s DropHomes. 

Each tiny home is 240 square feet, with a peaked, shingled roof and seven windows. At 30 feet long and 8 feet wide, the house is fully designed to accommodate wheelchairs, including the bathroom, kitchen and sleeping area. 

The units are hooked up to water with a heated fresh water hose that is rated to minus-20 degrees. Electricity is hooked up via a plug-in connection. The homes are mobile and can be hauled with a standard pickup truck. 

When parked, they can be lowered closer to the ground for easy access.

Lami and Louiselle obtained a $340,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services to pursue their goal, which, according to Louiselle, is “a continuing effort.”

 

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815. Follow him at twitter.com/JPooleNews.

 

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