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Tiny homes aim for huge impact
Digital Content Coordinator, Public Affairs Kauffman Foundation

Tiny homes aim for huge impact

Akili and Ashlee Kelly may have faced obstacles in starting Jackson, Mississippi’s first tiny home community, but their resilience has resulted in a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem in Jackson State University’s backyard.

"A lot of times, the control over the outcome of your life and career is in someone else’s hands, either with an employer or a circumstance, like debt," said Akili Kelly. "I wanted to take back control."

Akili and Ashlee Kelly are the co-founders of TinyJXN, a tiny home development startup in Jackson, Mississippi, which has a goal of catering to the needs of college students, recent graduates, and retirees.

As college graduates with student loan debt themselves, the Kellys understand the weight of that burden. They see building a community of tiny homes as a way to give college students and recent graduates the opportunity to become homeowners, despite the debt they’ve accrued.

"A lot of times the mortgage and payment of a tiny home is less than what a lot of people will pay in rent, even for a small apartment," said Akili.

Empty nesters can also benefit from tiny homes, because they’re easier and more affordable to maintain, he said.

"They have these large homes they no longer need, because kids have moved out... and in some cases it’s just one individual that is staying in a 3,000 square foot home that they’re still having to maintain and clean, whereas the tiny home option can be purchased and furnished with the equity from their first homes."

A Startup with Eyes on the (Tiny) Prize

Meet Akili and Ashlee Kelly, co-founders of TinyJXN.

The Kellys recently were able to successfully finish their first tiny home project, but their journey from idea to reality has had its fair share of complications.

"Because we’re going after traditional mortgages and construction loans, and a tiny home is not necessarily a standard housing type that banks are used to funding, we found out early on that banks don’t typically like to lend or make mortgages on anything under $60,000, and [our first home] just happened to be under that," said Akili.

Not only was it difficult to solidify a banking partnership due to the cost of development, the area in which the Kellys developed their first home was riddled with dilapidated properties, and that affected the appraisal process.

"Our first house was built within walking distance of Jackson State University, and the area has a high concentration of vacant properties, some owned by the city, some owned by the state, and some have gone into foreclosure," said Akili. "Once it got down to the actual loan evaluation, that’s the thing that always hung it up: not only the size of the home, but the appraisal of the home compared to other homes in the area."

As Jackson State University graduates, and with the eyes of entrepreneurs, Akili and Ashlee saw the opportunity. "These areas that have been kind of eyesores around the college campus have a lot of potential."

By persisting, the Kellys eventually found a bank that understood how other cities had handled similar tiny home projects. Akili says having a bank partner and a contractor that have bought in to their vision has greatly reduced barriers to beginning the next phase of their tiny home developments. With those partners in place, the Kellys hope to open up home purchasing to many other people.

"A lot of times the traditional housing method is just unattainable for a lot of people. They’re just like, ‘Well, I’m just gonna rent, and this is all that’s available to me.’ But you don’t have to just settle for renting as your only housing opportunity. There is an opportunity to become a homeowner, to become an investor, to become someone that could benefit from those benefits of being a homeowner."

So, what’s next for Akili and Ashlee?

The Kellys have been working with the department of Housing and Urban Development to access additional funds for the development of additional tiny homes, another step toward their goal of making tiny homes more accessible and helping the community near Jackson State University flourish again.

Furthermore, Ashlee has launched another organization, JXNpreneur, to provide resources and workshops to entrepreneurs just getting started in the area. They have worked closely with five entrepreneurs so far.

"I think the overall getting started part is what people have asked about and wanted to know," said Akili of JXNpreneneur. "Then once they get started, what are the resources that are available, from a funding standpoint or even just a networking standpoint? 'How can I get in contact with other people that are starting businesses or starting similar businesses?'"

To learn more about TinyJXN and the Kellys’ work in Jackson, Mississippi, visit their website.

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