Tiny-home project put on hold

Apr. 20—The first tiny-home village in Lewiston is stalled as the developers and city officials work through rules governing its construction.

Jeff Dietrich and James Demean began planning the 11-home project in September, hoping to break ground in February and complete the units at the end of this year on a lot on Eighth Avenue North between N. Sixth Avenue and 29th St. N.

Six months later, they have yet to secure a building permit and don't know when the housing will be ready, said Dietrich, who presented his concerns at a Lewiston City Council meeting this month.

City councilors didn't comment at the meeting, but Carol Maurer, the city of Lewiston's public information officer, issued a statement in response to an inquiry from the Tribune.

The city's development review committee has examined the plans and provided feedback, Maurer said in an email.

"The city continues to work with Mr. Dietrich to ensure all matters that affect public health, safety and welfare are being addressed," she said.

What he and Demean have proposed is doing the construction of the structures and the plumbing themselves, but not other parts of the work like electrical wiring, to limit costs and pass the savings on to future tenants, Dietrich said.

But the city won't allow that, unless they meet the requirements to become their own general contractor, he said.

The approach the city is requiring would roughly double what he estimated for construction costs, Dietrich said.

At the same time, working with the city is time-consuming. Officials from 17 parts of city government are involved in projects such as this and sometimes it takes as long as two weeks for responses to questions, Dietrich said.

Those challenges, Dietrich said, could block what he had conceived as a part of the solution to a housing shortage so severe that even people in the community with good jobs are struggling to afford rents or mortgages.

The modest residences would be about 300 square feet and he had wanted to rent them for as little as $650 per month.But given what's been invested so far, the rent will be higher, he said.

Each one would have a living area that would double as a bedroom, a kitchen and hookups for a washer and dryer and a parking spot. Such housing is congruent with mobile homes bordering the lot, Dietrich said.

The demand for this kind of housing is immense and includes itinerant nurses, said Dietrich, who has renovated more than 30 residences into affordable rentals.

He gets at least three or four calls a week from people who are separated and tell him they just need a place to lay their head, Dietrich said.

"There's a real lot of single people here, a lot of people who don't need two, three or four bedrooms," he said. "I feel like if they can get something like this, maybe it will open up a two- or three-bedroom for somebody that has a little bit bigger family."

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.