Presently, Mustard Tree Ministries is involved in developing a community of micro-homes which would provide affordable housing, a farm, community center, micro industries for employment, etc. With this assistance, Mustard Tree hopes to help people transition in life to better living conditions, creating a sense of self-sustainability. In the past seven years we have helped over 300 people get off the street and reconnected with God, family, and the community.
Mustard Tree Ministries has created CommunityFirst! Chattanooga with the goal of building a loving, compassionate, and highly hospitable community for the chronically homeless in the Chattanooga area. This community has been conceived and founded on CommunityFirst! Chattanooga principles and God’s call to bring human dignity to all people by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and housing the stranger.
To develop a loving and flourishing community of permanent micro-homes where the individual can thrive. This community will consist of people who might otherwise inhabit doorways, parks, bridges, and sidewalks, but instead will find a home and a sense of community.
Is this idea modeled after an existing organization?
Following a benchmarking visit to Community First Village in Austin, Texas in February of 2014 and in response to what we saw as an increasing need for more affordable housing in the Chattanooga metropolitan area, the Board of Mustard Tree Ministries, commissioned a project to build a community of affordable housing.
Who will live in the CommunityFirst village?
We have received interest from individuals that include a number of veterans, formerly homeless individuals, college students (some whom want to serve as missionaries), and others living below the poverty level in Hamilton County.
What is the selection process for determining who lives in the community?
Since the organization rents the homes to the individuals, it has control over the occupants, each of which would be thoroughly vetted. Each prospective resident would undergo a background check and have his or her income verified to ensure they would be able to pay their rent.
Will the individuals pay rent?
Every person who comes to live here will have to pay rent and therefore have a means to pay this rent. Our goal has always been to give people a hand up. We hope to continue what we started 15 years ago by using this farm and community we are planning to build as a new means to give people a hand up to become all that God has planned for them to be.
Where is the Community First village going to be?
The current planned location for the CommunityFirst! Chattanooga Village is a 16.7-Acre parcel of land owned by the United Methodist Church in Ooltewah- the former home of the Lighthouse United Methodist Church. The ministry operates a working farm at this location and it is already zoned A-1, which provides for agriculture and a density of 2 homes per acre or in this case, up to 33 single family homes.
How will the tiny homes be constructed?
The site plan design as well as concepts for various buildings on the property is available upon request. Phase 1 — the initial construction phase — will be construction of 1-3 model homes and the site development of the gardens which will be essential to the village. Phase II of the project will be a collaboration of people from the community; churches, synagogues, mosques, civic organizations, etc. Phase II will include construction of 30 additional micro-houses (300 sq-ft), community center and chapel (4,000 square feet), yard areas, and pavilions (1,000 square feet each). These facilities will be built on a site-lead/volunteer model by volunteers donating their time and businesses donating materials at or less than cost. Mustard Tree Ministries will ensure that there is a skilled leader on site at all times during all phases of construction.
Will there be a caretaker on staff?
The CommunityFirst! Chattanooga Village will be managed by Mustard Tree Ministries. There will be on-site management, maintenance, and grounds personnel.
Where does the project stand based on Planning Commission Review?
The Plan – In March 2016, MTM and the United Methodist Church submitted a request for a special permit to allow a Planned Unit Development (PUD). The plan we submitted was developed by Randall Taylor of Neuhoff Taylor Architects and includes 32 dwelling units which are to be clustered in the center of the site. A key feature of this design is that it preserves a large portion of the site for open space and agricultural which has the additional benefit of providing large buffering to the adjacent properties. To ensure these homes are affordable, the houses will be approximately 300 square feet. However, they will build on a foundation and satisfy applicable building codes and requirements, including septic.
Planning Staff Review – In May 2016, the Planning Staff after having reviewed our request for a permit recommended it for Approval to the Planning Commission. However, the planning commission, in response to objections from Ooltewah residents, voted to deny the requested permit.
What’s next? – Following the Planning Commission review/vote, The Mustard Tree Ministries Board of directors met and voted to withdraw our current application. While we were disappointed by the planning commission’s decision, we also recognize that we have more work to do to help our neighbors understand our plans for this development.
I have additional questions, who can I talk to?
For additional questions and you may contact Rev. Barry Kidwell of Mustard Tree Ministries at (423)713-6379 or PO Box 4002 Chattanooga, TN 37405.
CommunityFirst! in the News
The Chattanoogan notes, “Mr. Kidwell adds that, ‘At the end of the day, we have received a significant amount of encouragement and support from across the region for this concept and I am hopeful that the dialogue we have begun for providing affordable housing and supporting some of Chattanooga’s less affluent citizens will continue.'” You can read more of what our Director said in that article here.