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Peek inside the tiny homes that are bringing Newport's historic past back to life

Posted: 5:00 AM, May 04, 2018
Updated: 2018-05-04 09:00:15Z

NEWPORT, Ky. -- Drive down the two-block-long Forrest Street in Newport and you'll see a handful of Victorian-era tiny cottages that are now barn red, olive green, golden yellow and dark blue. Their freshly painted exteriors, postage-stamp yards, new sidewalks and patios are just what's on the outside, but it's enough to see what officials hope could happen with all the tiny housing stock across the River Cities.

It's literally bringing the historic past back to life.

"We want to show that despite the perception, reality is a cute little itty bitty house you could be proud of," said Tom Guidugli, executive director of Newport's Neighborhood Foundations. The mental image of a dilapidated street changes as people see what can be done with an update that includes exterior color and historic details, he said.

One of the homes recently rehabilitated by Newport's Neighborhood Foundations, located just south of East Row Historic District. (Photo provided)

It's something preservationists have longed to see, and it's coming to fruition as part of a national trend embracing living spaces that range from the tiniest 100-square-foot abode to 1,000-square-feet with lofts and full kitchens squeezed into a functional space.

HGTV's "Tiny House Builders" and "Tiny House Hunters" have helped boost that trend, but most of those shows don't highlight the challenges of placing a tiny home in communities where building codes limit how small a house can be.

Back of one tiny home with patio and green space. (Photo provided)

Enter places like Newport and Covington, where historic tiny houses are in abundance but most aren't for sale -- yet. Once a rehabbed cottage is on the market, they sell quickly.

Guidugli said some of their homes are pre-sold when people see the work being done. The last four homes that were funded -- three on Forrest and one on Washington -- all sold within days of being available.

"We weren't sure what the demand would be (when we did Shotgun Row)," said Adam Rockel, real estate development program manager at the Center for Great Neighborhoods in Covington. Shotgun Row consists of several tiny identical homes on Orchard Street that were rehabbed by the coordinated efforts of several organizations in late 2014.

"(That project) showed a lot of desire," he said. "We still get inquiries weekly."

Today, the Center for Great Neighborhoods "acquires the houses and stabilizes them and then resells them for rehab. They still need work, but they're not quite as severe," Rockel said.

Kitchen inside a cottage home on Forrest Street in Newport. (Photo provided)

Available sale inventory is low in all categories, said Rebecca Weber, a real estate agent with Huff Realty and a member of Covington's Urban Design Board.

"There's room for growth (with small homes)," she said. "It's an opportunity to be in an urban environment and live in a one-story house. They fit in a nice tidy footprint."

Who's buying the tiny homes?

"It's interesting that they seem to draw retired people who want to live close to the city," said Stephanie Steffen, vice president for Sibcy Cline Realtors in Fort Mitchell and agent on the Neighborhood Foundations cottages.

The bathroom inside a cottage home on Forrest Street in Newport. (Photo provided)

The homes that neighborhood groups and organizations have rehabbed tend to have federal housing income guidelines, Guidugli said. Even limited income buyers still have to qualify for a loan.

Guidugli said his organization has also bought a couple of homes without using federal funds, but the goal is to still keep the homes affordable.

Like the Center for Great Neighborhoods in Covington, Neighborhood Foundations buys the "worst of the worst" homes on the auction block and brings them into the 21st century, Guidugli said. Keeping them affordable is part of the goal.

The houses on Forrest and Washington are sold or pending, and list prices were in the low $100,000s.