Leonid Furmansky

Community First! Village has many of the hallmarks of your average suburban development. Located 8 miles east of downtown Austin, Texas, the 27-acre master-planned neighborhood has its share of cul-de-sacs and residential circles that branch out from a central avenue, Goodness Way. But there’s nothing conventional about the community, which provides affordable housing for over 200 former chronically homeless individuals, many of whom have disabilities, and includes an eclectic mix of model RV units, microhouses, communal kitchens, and even an art house. “Community First! is the type of place that you can describe all day, but it feels different when you’re there,” says Sarah Satterlee, AIA, the Community First! director of architecture and site development, who also happens to be a resident.

The village was the brainchild of real estate developer Alan Graham, whose local nonprofit Mobile Loaves & Fishes, a network of food trucks and 20,000 volunteers, delivers food, clothing, and other necessities to those in need. In his work with Austin’s homeless community, Graham came to believe that the “single greatest cause of homelessness is a profound, catastrophic loss of family.”

Community First! was his answer. In 2014, Graham partnered with the AIA Austin DesignVoice Committee to send out an RFP to design an affordable microhouse. They called the competition Tiny Victories. Fifty-four firms from around the world submitted designs, and a jury selected four winning entries from the local teams led by Cody Gatlin; Stephanie Motal, AIA; Michael Smith, AIA, and Mick Kennedy, AIA; and Becky Jeanes, Tray Toungate, Laura Shipley, and Brianna Nixon. Each house was between 144 and 200 square feet and cost just $12,000 to $20,000 to build. During the construction process, Community First! welcomed additional microhome designs, materials, and construction help, and the neighborhood was born: 135 microhouses—30 of which are Tiny Victories designs—and 100 model RV units, as well as communal bathrooms and laundry facilities, gathering spaces, and other resident resources. “We were not intentional about providing a diversity of architectural choices for our neighbors,” says Satterlee. “It just happened that way.”

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