Recently an article in the Tiny House newsletter caught my eye. It was about “A real tiny house community in Florida (not a vacation place)” located in Ruskin, Florida.
When I clicked on the article, I was immediately inspired to find out more about the woman – Debbie Caneen, who created this tiny community and how she did it. I also wanted to find out more about how someone with a tiny home should go about contacting her in order to join her community.
I reached out to Debbie and she immediately got back to me and agreed to let me interview her. We traded a couple more emails – I sent her my questions ahead of the scheduled phone call and we spoke on Saturday morning (June 15, 2019).
The moment you hear her voice you know that this cheerful woman juggles multiple projects and priorities with good grace. She seems to be the epitome of “The more you do, the more you get done”! We wasted no time getting into the nitty gritty of how her tiny home community came to be a reality.
Giving me some background on the area, Debbie told me that three miles east from her property is Sun City Center’s retirement community where it includes about 22,000 retirees; and the particular residential facility that she works for has 400 under one roof on any given day. In addition, in her role as President of the South Shore Coalition for Mental Health and Aging, she sees the growing requirement for services to and for the retiree demographic. The needed services for them, such as: food preparation, housekeeping, general living assistance, and more – are typically lower wage jobs, which presents a problem. Where will these support service people come from if there is no affordable housing available locally?
While pondering that question, serendipity arrived in the guise of a local realtor who made an announcement at a meeting she was attending, about a local investment property – a mobile home park. It sounded like something she should look in to.
The four and a half acre “park” had been on the market for over 3 years, and had six ancient and decrepit, yet occupied, mobile homes on the property. The pond at the center had been fenced in and overgrown – so much so that it was nearly impossible to see the water due to the algae grown covering it. The local offices of the county routinely cited the park for code violations. In short, it took a great deal of imagination to see this land for what it could be, and not walk away from what it was.
But Debbie is no stranger to hard work, or to tiny living. Having worked on 40 acres, farming earlier in life, and an avid lifetime sailor – she knew that the land could sustain determined people and she knew that tiny homes were livable and efficient. In her mind’s eye, she saw a community of tiny homes, with edible landscaping, and a community garden. A place that would be affordable, and sustainable; a place where people could afford to live. Her vision was strong, and she began the process of due diligence and upon purchasing the property, rolled up her sleeves and dug in.
The hard work turned out to be the easy part. What caused her much soul-searching and many sleepless nights, was what to do about the six families currently living in the dilapidated park. These old structures were not only in disrepair, the costs for electricity to keep them cool in the Florida heat was more than most of these families could afford. Often they paid their utility bills and had nothing left for the rent. If Debbie had been a “run of the mill” developer, she might have simply hired a lawyer to evict these people and sent them on their way. Instead she worked out a way to help them move, speaking with each family and assisting them with their move to a new locale.
Once they were all moved away, then the process of clearing the land, breaking down and removing the old homes and trash, removing the fence around the pond, and cleaning the pond could begin.
The surrounding neighborhood loved seeing the evolution of the area from tired and a bit trash covered to a tidy oasis. With a community college close by, gas station, shopping, the Amazon Fulfillment Center and restaurants also within a couple of blocks, the Circle Pond Tiny Home Community is not only improved greatly, it gives other residents nearby a nice boost of intrinsic and real value.
I asked Debbie what advice she would give to others who might want to do what she has done; what did she wish she had known, or what would she have done differently. After a thoughtful pause to reflect, her answer was that since this whole project was pretty much new – to the county and to the city, she learned a lot just by trying to get things done. “You discover what you need to do as you need to do it.” If there was any one thing she would advise it would be to “Be Proactive! Imagine the worst case scenario and plan for that.” For example, while it isn’t a requirement for RV’s (how tiny homes are viewed on site) to be strapped down for hurricanes, she asks that the tenants strap down their homes for safety. That attention to details translates to a safer community.
She also went on to say, that whenever she hit a problem or a snag, she would let it alone for a while and go do something productive (like planting another fruit tree on the property) and often the answer or inspiration leading to the answer, would come to her. From her list of the fruiting trees that she has planted on the property, including (but not limited to) peaches, plums, avocados, pomegranates, jack fruit – and she named off lots more, I am guessing she had her fair share of obstacles and challenges. She happily mentioned that her belief is that if you are trying to help others, the answers will come. I have to agree, and the proof is there in her accomplishment!
What she has created on her four and a half acres, includes: 12 spaces for tiny homes, edible landscaping in the form of many fruit trees, a stocked pond and a community garden; with plans for 12 more spaces once the local city services pull in water lines and sewage – which should happen soon, since there is a town home development being built nearby.
The current resident’s average age is 34 and they are a true community of people who are helpful to each other and enjoy tiny living and organic gardening.
Each lot is 30 feet by 30 feet leveled crushed gravel, and the space rent is $450 a month which includes the utilities including electricity (except for wifi). You will have to bring your own tiny home, but you can situate it as you please in your space. There is parking for each space, and the community is dog friendly. A fenced dog park area is planned in the near future.
If you are interested in renting a space and joining her tiny community, or just would like to tour it in person, please contact her through her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TinyHomeOnWheels/ or email her at Info@circlepondtinycommunity.com to make an appointment to visit or have a phone call.
If you have a “Living Smaller” story, or know of one – let me know. I’d love to interview you and share your story with the world. Contact me Natalia Corres, at: Info@idea-storm.com