University of South Florida

College of The Arts

University of South Florida

USF Architecture Students Design Mini Homes for Homeless Veterans

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

USF architecture students discuss construction drawings' development with board members from celebrate Outreach

USF architecture students discuss construction drawings with board members of Celebrate Outreach.

On Veteran’s Day 2018, the USF School of Architecture and Community Design and Pinellas nonprofit Celebrate Outreach break ground on the first house of the Mini Homes Design Collaboration, a project that leverages USF student-designed mini homes as a solution to veteran homelessness.

What began in 2015 has now involved over 40 students to design flexible, high-performance homes specially-made to consider the needs of veterans in the community.

USF architecture professor and research associate Josue Robles has worked with USF architecture students to help make this project a reality.

In the spring and summer of 2015, Robles taught two elective classes specially made for the collaboration with Celebrate Outreach. One class prompted students to design their own mini house designs while emphasizing key design concepts. The other class asked students to expand on their designs to make construction documents.

Students tailored their designs to meet the needs of potential future residents by interacting directly with homeless veterans in St. Petersburgh. They also gained insight on specific design considerations through interactions with their veteran peers, who brought attention to the accessibility and how to best design for veterans with PTSD.

Students continually revised their designs as they met with professionals from six local architecture firms and received continual guidance from Jason Taylor, a USF architecture alumnus and president of local architecture firm Taylor Studios.

The top four designs were selected as the best candidates to be built.

“Prototype IV” by USF graduate student designers Yesenia Vega and Nicole Harner was selected as the winning design and will be the first to be built by Celebrate Outreach on a lot in St. Petersburg. 

Their mini home design is a fully ADA-accessible space to accommodate the needs of anyone. An open floor plan with windows to the outside encourages peace for those who suffer from PTSD. Indoor living space provides the resident with the chance to have company, and a prominent front porch promotes interaction with neighbors.

“It goes beyond the house,” said Robles. “It’s about making the resident be a part of an active community.

USF architecture student Thomas Martineau presents his initial schematic design at the School of Architecture and Community Design

USF architecture student Thomas Martineau presents his initial schematic design at the School of Architecture and Community Design.

USF student designers originally started with the idea of making smaller, more conventional “tiny houses” popularized in television and on the internet, however, through research, they realized these structures would not be the best solution for homeless veterans and the community.

Instead of 200-300 square foot structures built on wheels and in tiny home villages, the team opted for larger buildings that can be integrated into preexisting neighborhoods. Out went the idea of the trendy “tiny houses” and in came the idea of high-performance “mini homes.”

“Wheels don’t mean investing in a community, because it’s a sort of notion ‘let’s leave,’” said Robles. “So we completely migrated from that as soon as we found out. [A mini home] goes on the market, it gains value over time, and it has the potential for growth.”

The first mini home will be built on a full-size lot near Central Avenue in St. Petersburg. While not far from the vibrant and historic Kenwood District, the new construction will add new energy to an area that hasn’t seen development in some time.

The house will cost approximately $40,000 in full, though some donations are being made for this first house.

USF architecture students will volunteer their time to build cabinetry with USF architecture fabrication shop manager Mike Lemieux.

Additionally, Reginald Craig, president of Celebrate Outreach and owner of a local construction company, will be donating construction labor to build the house. Bathroom fixtures and landscaping will also be donated.

While this first home is supported by the generosity of the community, Robles says the implementation of mini homes does not depend on donations. The low-cost homes are owned by the residents and can be financed with 30-year-mortgage with a monthly payment of $370.

“What we didn’t want was this to be a one-off,” said Robles. “We wanted to create a design that is part of a system that could scale up. It could also translate to other places.”

Press coverage

Bay News 9: Tiny Homes to Offer Big Hopes for Struggling Veterans

Fox 13: Groundbreaking for tiny homes for homeless veterans

83degrees Media - For Good: St. Pete nonprofit builds tiny houses for homeless vets

Green Bench Monthly - Celebrate Outreach: A ‘Tiny’ Solution to a Big Problem

WUSF - Tiny Homes For Vets Teach USF Students Huge Lessons

TBO - ‘Tiny houses’ help St. Pete tackle challenge to house homeless veterans

Banner photo (top): Rendering of the mini home designed by USF architecture graduates Yesenia Vega and Nicole Harner that will be the first to be built in St. Petersburg for the USF Architecture and Community Design and Celebrate Outreach collaboration.