When Tafadzwa “T” Nemuseso, a traveling nurse from Zimbabwe and Florida, received his first assignment in December 2021 at the Boulder Intensive Behavioral Center, his search for affordable housing led him to a small residence in an unlikely location. .

During Nemuseso’s first week of mission, he lived in an apartment in Helena. After searching on AirBnb, however, he found a solution in a small community in downtown Basin.

As migration and inflation continue to drive up the cost of housing in Jefferson County – the average home listing price in Jefferson County is currently $597,000, according to real estate agent.com — local authorities are looking for affordable housing alternatives with increasing urgency. Basin’s unintended tiny house experiment might provide an answer.

The tiny village came into being when Cecilia McNeal, a former entrepreneur who now works as a philanthropist, bought the unfinished three-lot property on Boulder Road without seeing it to provide housing for her close friend “Elkhorn John” Bonan.

“He was getting old, he wasn’t doing very well and… I knew he couldn’t make it through another winter. [in Elkhorn]McNeal said. After coming across the property listing one day, McNeal came up with a plan to complete a small house Bonan could live in during the winter.

“I probably never would have bought them if I had seen them,” McNeal said, noting that the photos did not reflect the actual condition of the properties. Inhabitant of the basin Burton Whittaker had started the project of building small houses about 10 years ago, hoping to attract summer travelers, but the four houses were never completed.

After McNeal completed two of the structures and beautified the exterior of the property, Bonan died on June 21, 2022. Without Bonan to build a house, she said, McNeal lost motivation to complete the other two houses. , saying that “reason is gone.”

Although his heart is no longer in the project, McNeal furnished the two finished spaces — a one-bedroom house and a studio, both with a small kitchen and bathroom space — and listed them on AirBnB for travelers passing through the region. She plans to slowly complete the other two areas.

Although the space is actually tiny — just 384 square feet — Nemuseso said the home had everything he needed and the community was much quieter than Helena. “It’s quiet, it’s really quiet,” he said. “It’s really cool. The people here are nice.”

Although the small community of McNeal was born more or less by accident, several municipalities have used compact housing as a strategic solution to address the lack of affordable housing and homelessness. According to Forbes Advisor, a tiny home can cost between $6,000 and $100,000, with the national average costing around $45,000.

In Montana, Housing First Village, a village of tiny homes, opened last November in the north end of Bozeman. Built by a partnership between the Human Resource Development Council, a community action agency that strives to meet the needs of southwest Montanan, and the MSU School of Architecture, the village is a 6-acre lot. .5 acres that can accommodate 19 small houses ranging from 100 to 350 square meters. feet. The spaces provide residents with a safe and warm space until they can transition to more permanent housing and community living, according to the HRDC website. The total project cost was $3.8 million.

“As in many parts of the country, affordable housing is scarce in Bozeman,” reads the website of Fannie Mae, a company that awarded HRDC $500,000 to complete the housing development. “During the pandemic, the population grew as affluent, out-of-state residents now able to work anywhere flocked to the mountain town. The influx of new residents has disrupted the housing market, driving house prices up 29% in 12 months and creating cascading effects for local workers who have been deprived of rental housing prices.

Residents of the small town pay 30% of their income in exchange for housing and access to services such as financial support, healthcare coordination and mental health counselling. HRDC estimates that this Housing First solution will save the city $16,000 per capita annually.

In Basin, McNeal’s Tiny Homes offer a few moderately priced options for renters that might be overpriced elsewhere. They also house an important part of the city’s history.

When the miners first settled in Basin, three small cabins were built where the small houses now stand, according to McNeal. The land then fell into the hands of the Whittakers and the process of building the small houses began.

“The story of this is the story of the city,” McNeal said. Although tiny houses have replaced the miners’ huts, the property still contains an important piece of the basin’s history: the town rock.

As the city prospered, surveyors based all their plans and maps on a singular rock, carving an “X” into it to mark its importance. “All the soundings come from this rock,” McNeal said. “When I called the guy to have my land surveyed, he was like, ‘Well, that’s really easy.’ He says, ‘You have the rock!’ “

The small community of McNeal isn’t the only moderately priced housing for sale in Basin. In February, a four-unit home on Quartz Ave in Basin sold, after listing twice for $350,000.

Nemuseso’s assignment in Boulder will end in October, after which he will return to Florida. He says he hopes to return to the basin area and his little house.