Photography by Will Crocker

Starter homes were supposed to be dead.

It was too expensive to sell them, mostly because the site you'd build one on cost too much. There'd be a risk of not making money, or losing it.

So, no matter how small, how modestly appointed, how far out beyond job centers' widest peripheries, starter homes--the new houses that could pull young, still-struggling families out of the rental merry-go-round into something they could call their own--were close to extinction.

Or maybe not quite.

Along comes New Orleans architect Jonathan Tate, who on a dare from colleague and now-partner Charles Rutledge, does something most believe is undoable. He builds a speculative, downtown urban infill single-family detached home that caters to "the 50%," not the high-end buyer who's been ruling housing's early recovery with a somewhat iron hand.

Tate's own words on his Starter Home* speak to defiance by design. On his firm's site, he writes:

"A Starter Home* expects no tabula rasa, and in fact relies on the specificities of site in order to function at its best, financially, urbanistically, and spatially. The overlay of zoning – both impediment and opportunity – guides the design process but also provides the potentiality of the site as Starter Home* opportunity. With this in mind, no zoning variances were sought, and in its design, 3106 [Thomas Street, New Orleans] seeks to take advantage of its preconditions: adjacency to a warehouse and a two-family home, a highly restricted, long and narrow footprint, and a rather generous maximum height of forty feet."

Asterisk included, you ask? Yes, which perhaps is a better sign of what's to come than a footnote.

Jonathan Tate and his Starter Home* have--in spite of modest beginnings and an uncertain business model--earned top honors among the those of us looking for housing's most influential innovators, whom we salute in our HIVE 100 for 2016. He tells

"What makes it work is that it appears no one was thinking about this particular problem or possibility. Not that we’ve invented anything singularly new, just that we were able to combine a number of active concerns in a way that proved compelling.”

It's a fact of life in innovation that its beginnings, whether inside a single instance or unit or firm, or across an entire ecosystem--are necessarily clouded by uncertainty, fragility, skepticism, and doubt. If its superiority, its eventual emergence, and even its one-day dominance were foreseen, it would not be innovation.

Jonathan Tate, we were gratified to see, made it as well into the Fast Company Innovation By Design line-up of honorees. The Fast Company write-up notes:

The proof-of-concept is squeezed between a duplex and an industrial warehouse in New Orleans’ Irish Channel neighborhood. Although only 975 square feet in area, the one-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath home contains tall ceilings, ample windows, a beautiful deck, and more. It’s designed with middle-income individuals or couples in mind–what Tate calls “the 50%”–who have found it traditionally difficult to find homes in their price range in in-demand neighborhoods. Although only one Starter Home* exists now, more homes are currently underway in New Orleans, Austin, Houston, Pittsburgh, and Oakland.

Which begs the question. Are starter homes over? Or just starting over? We're celebrating, spotlighting, and engaging innovators like Jonathan at our HIVE event, starting Sept. 28 at LA Live/J.W. Marriott, in Los Angeles. See you there.