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Julianne Jones, Paula Jones and Zach Downs, from left, talk on the porch of the "tiny" house on Willow Street on Thursday, October 8, 2015.

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Tiny house on Willow Street hosts open house

As people walked through the new home on Willow Street during an open house Thursday evening, a question passed through their minds.

Could I live in a 532-square-foot home?

"I totally could," Kristie McDowell said.

"In a heartbeat," Steve Brennan said.

"There's no way," Jay Bell said.

"In a specific phase of life, I could," Kaye Ivey said.

The house, built by Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise, was constructed from the ground up and has 10-foot ceilings, a bathroom, living area, kitchen and bedroom. Martina Guilfoil, president and CEO of CNE, said her organization usually builds homes in the 1,200-1,700-square-foot range.

The house costs $80,000 and the monthly expenses — mortgage and utilities — will cost around $650, she said. The goal is to let someone who makes $11 an hour purchase the home.

"Someone who earns $23,000 a year can buy it," Guilfoil said.

The tiny home craze is sweeping the nation.

Several TV shows on HGTV showcase the trend to extreme downsizing. The house at 810 Willow St. isn't as small as some — they can be as little as 200 square feet — because it's harder to build houses that small with all the necessary customization, Guilfoil said.

A square foot in the Willow Street home cost CNE about $140-$145 to build. The more normal-sized houses it builds cost around $115-$120 per square foot.

Behind the home, there's a chunk of land CNE said could be developed in a variety of ways. One of the blueprints shows seven more tiny houses in a community. The organization may hold a design challenge to determine how to use the space.

How well the Willow Street home does on the market will determine how the land will be used, Guilfoil said. If there isn't interest in the tiny home, then CNE probably will build normal-sized homes on the plot of land.

"This is where the rubber hits the road," Guilfoil said.

Brennan saw the construction every day on his way to work. After touring the place, he thinks he could downsize. But, he thinks the traditional culture in the South isn't conducive to tiny living for the average resident.

"Everybody talks about, 'Buy a big house and fill it with [possessions]," he said. "I don't think they're in the mentality where people are all that well-geared for living with few possessions and frugally."

CNE is trying to attract the millennial generation.

Generally speaking, Guilfoil said, that generation isn't concerned with having lots of space and prefers being outside more. Plus, that generation has more student debt than most, so they don't want to add on more debt with buying a big home.

Ivey's son is 20, and he's talked about housing options.

"He goes, 'Mom, I don't want to spend all my money on a big house that I have to maintain, paint, worrying about cutting the grass,'" Ivey said. "So I was really impressed. The space design was amazing."

Contact staff writer Evan Hoopfer at ehoopfer@timesfreepress.com, @EvanHoopfer on Twitter or 423-757-6731.

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