Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Salemtown developer focused on building "tiny" homes

Last month a local business and commerce tabloid interviewed developer, Mike Kenner, who in recent years made waves in Salemtown with tear downs and new builds. The article focuses on "tiny" houses that are being snapped up by the millennial generation, but I am most interested in what the article leaves out:

MiKen Development, is preparing to launch a development of 60 homes ranging from 850 to 1,600 square feet on a 5.5 acre site at 1206 60th Avenue N. in West Nashville across from West Park.

Unlike Baby Boomers, the millennial generation is less interested in large houses in the suburbs.

They want smaller homes in the heart of the city, “not the big McMansion in Brentwood where you drive an hour and a-half to work.

Value systems are changing,” Kenner explains.

Floor plans and home sizes are evolving to keep up with modern lifestyles. There’s no reason to build-in space for a master bedroom sitting area because that’s not where millennials are spending their time. The same is true of dining rooms.

“They want to walk out the door and see their friends at restaurants and bars, not entertain in a formal dining room,” Kenner says.

Smaller houses have another advantage. They have prices that put ownership within reach of young buyers. Kenner expects prices in his small-home development to range from $199,000 to $350,000.

That’s more than the median price of houses throughout the Nashville region, which was $195,000 in March, according to the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors.

I would be interested in hearing from some millennials out there on whether they agree with how they are characterized here.

In my opinion, what slips through the cracks in this piece is the enduring presence (and in some places the increase) in urban neighborhoods of families with children. In one of my previous discussions with Mr. Kenner I mentioned that I have seen an increase in young couples in Salemtown pushing strollers around. Now, I'm a baby boomer who moved to Salemtown stroller-in-tow 10 years ago and there were small children then too (although, the neighborhoods was more ethnically and generationally diverse than it is now).

I'm concerned that these developers seem to ignore the needs of families, even millennials with children, in the name of marketing to empty-nesters. Likewise, I wonder if they conflate millennials and empty-nesters. On the one hand, they claim that the younger generation wants to live in places around West Park and in the North End. On the other hand, their tiny builds seem to assume that millennials are going to move to bigger suburban house when and if they have children.

Their contradiction begs the question that I have posed to Mr. Kenner repeatedly one-to-one as well as at community meetings: why not build a diverse stock of housing in urban neighborhoods that meets the millennials' preference for smaller houses while also addressing the probability of future family planning with larger offerings, including adequate yards (even common ones)? Higher density need not mean either "tiny" or family-unfriendly. Why not build to demands of both empty-nesters and families? Why not commit to long-term quality of life and retention of neighbors instead of merely maximizing short-term gains?

[On a side note: the last time I spoke with Mr. Kenner, he was still moving ahead with his SP in northern Salemtown called Salemtown Cottages. One of the changes that has occurred is that he bought Aerial Development out of that partnership. Since this is "special plan" zoning, we need to make sure that all of the provisions that the community agreed upon in exchange for MiKen getting its requested rezoning are met].


  1. That's an interesting article. I can't speak for Millenials, but I can feel for them. In-town houses are expensive.

    Anything priced below about $230k in Sylvan Park is a tear-down. The Nations, where West Park is, has a tremendous number of new homes; you'd be surprised - there are plenty with yards and space. Of course Sylvan Park has yards and Hillwood has huge space.

    I do agree that less than 1,600 sq. feet means that you are moving out a couple years after having your first child. While millenials may not a big home in the suburbs, I suspect they will want a big home (closer to the city). Just know that to get into that bigger home, you are looking above - sometimes way above in West Nashville - that $350,000 range where these small homes top out.

  2. My wife and I qualify as Xers and not Millennials, but just barely.. But we fit the bill in every other way for the description above. We just bought a house (an 850 sq/ft apartment in the germantown cohousing) and we've got one kid and hoping to have another soon.

    We are both from Texas suburbs but lived in community overseas for a few years.. and maybe it's a baby boomer thing.. or maybe it's a southern thing, but people all over the world in all financial classes live in much smaller houses than we do in these parts and they do so, with kids, just fine.

    When we first moved here we moved into an 800 sq/ft apartment in the gulch and when my son was born we moved into a 1600 sq/ft house in germantown. For us it is way too big. We are looking forward to downsizing. Granted we'll have the community space, but we're choosing to spend our lives together and in community and not in our own separate spaces.

    I used to think I was crazy for thinking this way.. No one I knew when I was younger, who owned a house or was starting a family would understand, but it's nice to see an entire generation of new parents thinking smaller.

    Similarly we choose to share one car instead of getting a second one.. if it was feasible to get rid of the one we have, we'd probably do it.

    And believe it or not, this isn't a green thing.. my one car isn't a Prius and I really only recycle if it's super convenient. I just don't want to accumulate stuff. I don't want to spend my life maintaining. I don't want my life decisions to be weighed down by things I own. I'd like a quality lifestyle for my family, without completely throwing money in a hole.. I don't want to spend my life in car or mowing a lawn. I want to spend time with my family. I don't want to deal with maintenance and repairs, and I don't take, "That's just the way life is." for an answer.

    So as a nearly Millennial, I am all for building smaller houses close to downtown. I think it's a great idea. Granted, speaking for Millennials.. if it doesn't work out, I'll just move.. so perhaps when the pendulum of thought swings the other way it will not have been a wise decision. Regardless, I believe new families are looking for smaller homes than most people would expect, and I think that is a good trend.