A nonprofit aiming to change the way people think about affordable housing is working on a new residential development in Atlanta.
The newest project from MicroLife Institute is planned for 2903 Metropolitan Parkway SW in the Hammond Park neighborhood. It includes one approximately 4,250-square-foot building with eight units and an approximately 1,243-square-foot building with two units. The project is expected to take about two years.
“By December of 2025, we should be putting the last nail in,” MicroLife Institute founder and executive director Will Johnston told What Now Atlanta.
Johnston became interested in the tiny-house movement – what he calls his gateway into housing advocacy – when traveling, embracing a non-traditional working schedule, and discovering the freedom of owning a minimal amount of things. That grew into an interest in nonprofit work and affordable housing development.
“There’s so many ways to do it wrong, and we seem to keep doing that,” he told What Now Atlanta. “We should be focusing on the community that needs to be built, establish the area and the community that needs to be reworked. There’s so much more to housing than just the structures, and we forget that.”
Not all MicroLife Institute projects will be demographic-focused, Johnston said, but for the Metropolitan Parkway development, the focus will be on women out of incarceration.
Partnering with Hope Springs Housing, they were awarded a $2.5 million grant from the American Rescue Plan and the State Fiscal Recovery Fund in 2022. Hope Springs Housing will be working to place residents in the completed units. The organization works to provide stable housing for women reentering society after incarceration to allow for reunification with their dependent children.
The units will be at or below 30% AMI. The builder for the project is Atlanta-based Middle Housing Company, which focuses on housing that falls into a range between single-family homes and high-rise apartment buildings.
The Metropolitan Parkway project isn’t the first residential development for MicroLife Institute. The Cottages on Vaughn includes eight micro-cottage homes and a common green space in a half-acre lot a block away from downtown Clarkston. The organization hosts quarterly tours to invite people to see the award-winning community, including an upcoming event called Cottages & Cocoa on Dec. 16, 2023.
Johnston hopes to get people to rethink community, emphasizing the positive impacts of a tight-knit neighborhood – and that microhome communities can help accomplish this.
“We’re here to build community, physically, mentally, socially,” he said. “It starts with a drink at a bar or some food around a table. How do we create a better culture with how we build?”
To further market this message, Johnston wrote a children’s book called “NIMBY The Clown.” NIMBY, which stands for Not In My Backyard, is a kid-friendly book about community engagement, neighborhood improvement, and not being afraid of change. Johnston describes it as “How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but for zoning.”
In addition to building community and weaving the social fabric back into neighborhoods, MicroLife Institute aims to use space efficiently while still providing quality homes that serve the needs of occupants.
“Our potential future project, we’re looking at homes around 1,400 square feet, still a 3-bedroom,” he said. “It’s funny what we think we need now. Culturally, we think we need a larger car, a larger house, more stuff. But we need more people and experiences in our lives to be happy.”