Austin’s Community First! Village Unveils Affordable New Micro Homes

With a wood-clad interior and a butterfly roof, this compact home by Mckinney York Architects balances affordability, sustainability, and privacy.

Austin’s Community First! Village is a planned community that provides affordable housing and shared resources to those transitioning out of homelessness. The village features an array of micro homes designed by some of the city’s most acclaimed architects to be sustainable, attainable, and sensitive to resident lifestyles—and it’s expanding with 310 additional dwellings, including a new home by McKinney York.

McKinney York partnered with BEC Austin, whom they worked with on phase one, to build the micro homes. With phase two, their goal was to make the design "easy enough so that people who weren’t skilled laborers and were volunteers could take the drawing and build one themselves," McKinney says. "With phase one, the houses were hard to pull off for anyone that wasn’t a carpenter."

The firm first got involved in the community via Tiny Victories 1.0, a design contest held by AIA Austin DesignVoice to determine plans for the first set of homes—and they were thrilled to be included for phase two.

"More than 30 firms submitted to be a part of phase two—some of the best firms—so we were really pleased to be selected," says Heather Mckinney, principal of Mckinney York. "It wasn’t a slam dunk that we would get another opportunity, so we were very excited." 

Community First! hopes to expand to other parts of Austin—the organization has purchased several more acres on the east side.

While the first homes weren’t designed with a particular client in mind, the architects got the opportunity to learn what residents needed and wanted out of their homes for phase two thanks to an intensive post-occupancy study—and many of the findings were surprising. 

The home’s small footprint can be efficiently heated and cooled, and the windows and cutouts above the barn door provide passive ventilation.

"We felt like we came in very open-minded, but as architects we have preconceptions—like that everyone wants a lot of windows," McKinney says. Instead, residents favored more privacy in their homes. "There are these layers of privacy, even within a tiny home, that inform everything. Being formerly homeless, privacy is something they really prize," she adds.

Mckinney York also got the opportunity to work with a seed neighbor— a phase one resident who volunteered to move to phase two. "It’s a brave experience once you settle to uproot yourself and move to this new phase and offer perspective and guidance," adds architect Navvab Taylor.

Community First! Village is one of the safest neighborhoods in Austin. "Alan Graham, CEO of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, said that in the beginning, people were apprehensive about the community coming in and didn’t know what it would be like," McKinney says. "It’s turned out to have one of the lowest incidents of crime because everybody is on the same page and takes care of one another."

For their phase two design, McKinney York went with a screened porch for extra privacy and a butterfly-shaped roof that not only represents transformation and growth, but also captures rainwater. There’s a barn door to separate the main sleeping area, as their "seed neighbor was very clear how she wanted privacy—but didn’t want to have two small rooms," McKinney notes.

The floors are all concrete, and the kitchen, which includes a mini fridge and microwave, has blue-gray stone countertops. "We had a stone company in Austin offer to help us with the project," McKinney says. "Our seed neighbor was so excited as we looked at dozens and dozens of big slabs of stone."

"In phase one, we designed our first house like a little boat with every space having storage all the way up to the ceiling and down low—and we made the bed built-in like a berth," Mckinney says. But as many of the Community First! residents have mobility impairments, those particular features didn’t make sense for their next design. 

Their phase two home, which sits at just over 200 square feet with a 60-square-foot porch, includes 12-foot ceilings, windows that maximize both natural light and privacy, and a built-in desk. The finishes include cement board-and-batten for durability and shiplap clear-sealed pine on the interior. "The wood gives it that warm, cozy feeling and it’s more durable than sheetrock or drywall that can get dented easily," Taylor says.

The screened porch allows residents to customize their living space and provides extra storage. "We had to think of how things were going to fit, and where bulky items would go, so we designed an outdoor storage area," McKinney says.

Phase two, which is currently under construction, will add 200 micro homes and 110 park/RV homes to the village. "Community First! has become a resource for the broader community," Mckinney says. "All of the funds come from the community, and there are no federal or city dollars used. At Community First! there are no closed doors, only openings."

Related Reading:

Austin Is Getting a Village of 3D-Printed Homes—and They Look Incredible

Austin Tackles Homelessness With a Village of Sustainable Tiny Homes 

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: McKinney York / @mckinneyyorkarchitects 

Builder/General Contractor: Scott Wilson/Josh Hardesty, BEC

Structural Engineer: Mike Wilson, DCI Engineers


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