Carrboro breaks ground for new Pee Wee Homes development


By Michelle Cassell
Managing Editor 

A Pee Wee Homes community is coming to Carrboro. The groundbreaking for the fourth Pee Wee Homes development in Orange County and the first in Carrboro, occurred on December 2 at 106 Hill Street.

Newly elected Mayor Barbara Foushee is an avid supporter of the Pee Wee Homes development and helped to get land donated by the Town of Carrboro for the project while she served as a town council member. ” I am very excited about increasing the affordable housing stock in Carrboro and look forward to more groundbreakings and celebrations as more homes come online in the future,” Foushee said.

Pee Wee Homes’ first project was completed in 2018 on Craig Street in Chapel Hill.

Their mission is: “ to create dignified, affordable, tiny homes in a caring community for people transitioning out of homelessness.” Residents whose monthly incomes are less than 30 percent of the average median income in Orange County pay 1/3 of their income for rent. That rent is all given to cover maintenance and repairs of the dwellings, as well as a small equity fund for each resident. 

The three tiny homes, scheduled to begin construction soon, will provide independent housing for individuals transitioning out of homelessness in communities of support.  Hope Renovations and New Start Development will build the homes.  Construction money came from many partners and donors, including Carrboro and Orange County funding and land donated by the Town of Carrboro.

Co-founder and Interim Direction Hudson Vaughn said in his opening speech at the groundbreaking, “We now have seven homes and seven residents living in dignified, tiny homes – and these will be 8, 9, and ten. Many of our homes rent for as low as $220/month – genuinely affordable for people on a fixed income, for aging in place, and in the community. And 10 percent of resident rent is held in escrow for residents, adding a small amount of emergency savings and eventual equity.”

Vaughn said, “We have staff and a board, half of whom have lived experience of homelessness…Several Pee Wee Homes residents are involved in Pee Wee Homes leadership. Several serve on our board, and others are on critical committees. They help design future homes and identify the needs of the small communities.”.

Heather Ferrell, an architect and Carrboro resident, said, “This project is a beautiful way to show our kids that not only do we take care of the vulnerable people in our community, but we show them respect and dignity. We’re excited about the potential to have this project right on our street.”

Why the name Pee Wee?

Nathaniel “Pee Wee” Lee stands with Erika Walker, former executive director of Pee Wee Homes, in front of his tiny home at the Advocate Campus affordable homes development in Chapel Hill. Photo by Michelle Cassell.

 In September 2022, TLR interviewed the namesake of Pee Wee Homes. Once homeless Nathaniel “Pee Wee” Lee became one of the first five residents and the first resident at the Advocate Campus on the Episcopal Church property.

“Pee Wee Homes is named after Pee Wee, a brick mason who literally helped build this town but was unable to afford housing in it. Seven years ago, a group of us came together with Pee Wee and many other friends in mind from work in this community thinking there must be ways to do build smaller, efficient, quality homes that can help fill that need – to live independently but connected, in communities of support. And to partner with churches and local governments to build on underutilized land in creative ways and take a small role in addressing this growing affordable housing crisis,” Vaughn, executive director of Pee Wee Homes, said at the groundbreaking.

Seven years later, Pee Wee lives in a charming 300-square-foot home that provides him with shelter, water, heat, television, and all the necessities, plus a few extras: a welcoming front porch with a wooden rocking chair.“It is a wonderful place to live,” said Pee Wee. “It really is.”

Carrboro’s future Pee Wee Homes

In 2022, The Carrboro Town Council voted unanimously to approve rezoning the Hill Street lot, enabling Pee Wee Homes to build three affordable detached units for community members who have experienced homelessness and housing insecurity.

Each new tiny home will be under 390 square feet and each home will have solar panels courtesy of a local donor. The three homes will join the historic Loyd-Broad neighborhood on the corner of Hill Street and Broad Street.

“The three new Pee Wee Homes are a great example of leveraging Town-owned land to provide shelter and safety for neighbors transitioning out of homelessness. At the ground breaking ceremony, one of the things that left the biggest impression on me was how welcoming the neighborhood is to its new neighbors. It is our community at its finest. The location of the Pee Wee Homes is very convenient: across the street from Henry Baldwin Park and within walking distance to a health clinic, transit, a grocery store, and restaurants. I know it will be a great place to call home,” Susan Romaine, former mayor pro tem of Carrboro, said.

Decisive community action led by the Marian Cheek Jackson Center, the Inter-Faith Center for Social Service and the Community Empowerment Fund (CEF), along with direction from the Carrboro Affordable Housing Advisory Commission, encouraged the council’s vote.

The permit processing was slow, but the Carrboro Pee Wee Homes ground breaking occurred almost on schedule. Pee Wee had said that he hoped he would be there when the ground was broken for the Carrboro homes. “That will be a good day – a blessed day,” said Pee Wee. According to Mellicent Blythe, Chair of Pee Wee Homes Board, he did not attend the ceremony that day but sent his good wishes.

“We all have a responsibility to this crisis and a part we can play in solving it. We need community support for the large-scale multi-family housing in which many of our partners specialize. We need to find ways to build more Pee Wee Homes – and we need all of us to think about the opportunities we have and the places we can turn into housing or ways we can support housing with our time and resources. Housing is a human right, yet there is a gap of over 5,000 homes affordable to those with the lowest incomes in our community. Let’s change that. Thank you for helping us strengthen our community, care and be cared for by the most vulnerable, and begin to build a community we can be proud of,” Vaughn said.

Michelle Cassell is a seasoned reporter who has covered everything from crime to hurricanes and local politics to human interest over the course of 35 years. As managing editor, she hopes to encourage writers of a wide range of backgrounds and interests in TLR’s coverage of Southern Orange County news. 

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