Jul 172015
 
A house under construction by architect Jonathan Tate and developer Charles Rutledge on a tiny lot on St. Thomas Street. (photo by Sarah Tan for UptownMessenger.com)

A house under construction by architect Jonathan Tate and developer Charles Rutledge on a tiny lot on St. Thomas Street. (photo by Sarah Tan for UptownMessenger.com)

Article by Sarah Tan for UptownMessenger.com

The city of New Orleans shows the comparatively tiny size of the 880-square-foot lot on St. Thomas Street. (via nola.gov)

The city of New Orleans shows the comparatively tiny size of the 880-square-foot lot on St. Thomas Street. (via nola.gov)

Throughout the city of New Orleans, more than 5,000 irregularly-shaped empty lots of land have traditionally been seen as too tiny to be built upon, so they just sit. One architecture firm and developer team, however, have been looking to make use of these lots by turning them into small, but affordable housing stock.

“The lot on St. Thomas ‘wasn’t worthy of a house’ is what the neighbors said,” architect Jonathan Tate said.

Tate’s firm and developer Charles Rutledge began noticing a preponderance of these irregular lots like the one on St. Thomas Street in the Irish Channel, a neighborhood that over the past few years has skyrocketed in real estate value. In total, there are about 20 to 30 irregularly sized lots that measure less than 900 square feet. They thought that if they could use the land to build smaller houses, they could both utilize the empty space, and also potentially open up an increasingly expensive neighborhood to first-time homebuyers.

“The Irish Channel is particularly interesting because the value is going way up, and it’s pushing people out,” Rutledge said. “We want to see how to make housing more affordable without cheap architecture.”

The solution has been, for the most part, to buy a smaller plot of land and to build a smaller house, which will have lower construction costs. Currently, the team is working on their first “starter home,” a house on an 880-square-foot lot in the 3100 block St. Thomas Street in the Irish Channel. The house looms tall and thin on a sliver of land in the backyard of a creole cottage and a warehouse.

“If we’re working with odd lots, we can be inventive with how we use space and advantage all parts of the lot,” Tate said. “Stylistically, its contemporary, but there’s enough familiarity to them.”

Real-estate agent Tracey Moore, who will put the house on the market in August, has said that she thought the team was filling a particular niche in the real estate market that had yet to be addressed.

“Smaller lots are hard to deal with, but because they’re small, they’re still somewhat affordable,” Moore said. “Most of the time, these lots are just sitting there with grass growing or people are putting trash on them.”

She added that for someone trying to break into the housing market in a trendier neighborhood such as the Channel or the Bywater, smaller lots were the only things left. Although the thought of developing irregularly-sized lots isn’t necessarily new, developers often overlook them because they may not turn as much of a profit, Moore said. Tate and Rutledge acknowledge this fact, and say that their first house on St. Thomas may need to sell for more in order for them to make up for potentially losing money on the sale of future starter homes in the area.

They bought the 16-by-55-foot lot on St. Thomas for $22,000. By comparison, a regular-sized lot in the area recently sold for $285,000, and that’s not including the price of building a house on the lot. Houses in the area have sold for up to $400 per square foot. The team is hoping to sell their starter homes for around $200 a square foot.

“We’re trying to provide an alternative option for someone with a price point that doesn’t exist in this part of the city,” Tate added.

For people looking to build home equity and buy their first house, Tate and Rutledge hope that their starter home will provide another option in another neighborhood that they may not otherwise have considered.

“As a neighborhood improves, it gets more economically homogenous, and existing residents are forced to move out,” Rutledge said. “But part of what makes these neighborhoods attractive is their proximity to the city center, and why shouldn’t more people of economic diversity get to enjoy that?”

Moore added however, that affordable is a relative term.

“This is not going to be cheap…but there are only four houses Uptown that are selling for under 300 per square foot,” she said, adding that the new starter home will be a fifth, and an option that is in a highly sought after neighborhood. The other affordable Uptown houses she mentioned are in neighborhoods such as Hollygrove or Gert Town.

The house on St. Thomas is planned to be finished with construction and on the market by August. The team is also looking at purchasing small lots in Central City, the Bywater and the Marigny for their next starter home site.

A cross section of the home planned for St. Thomas Street. (courtesy of the architect)

A cross section of the home planned for St. Thomas Street. (courtesy of the architect)

Sarah Tan is a freelancer reporter based in Mid-City.

  • jexni

    Seems like a great idea for out of commerce lots in areas with increasing housing costs, but I can’t see many people wanting to pay $200 a square foot for homes in Hollygrove or Girttown.

  • MonkeyTown

    Boo! Hiss! These guys are not providing a solution…they are creating a problem. The lots in the Channel are for the most part narrow with no off street parking …this “solution” only adds to the population density of an area that is already saturated. This is not a good idea…it’s a good idea if you’re a greedy irresponsible developer left unchecked. If these tiny lots are city owned or adjudicated, then these tiny lots should be offered to the adjacent land owners at a discount just to integrate them back into the grid as green areas.

    • BigAl1825

      Some are independently owned. As in, the side lots are owned by home owners or people who want to develop their own lot. I looked at one in a recent auction sale. Both lots on either side are owned. The lot itself is slightly too narrow for any of the allowed construction in the Irish Channel, by about 1′. I could request a deviation from standards, but I can’t risk bidding tens of thousands of dollars for a piece of land that I might not be able to develop.

      That’s probably why the current owner hasn’t paid their back taxes. They can’t do anything with the land. So it just sits there, accumulating trash, spawning vermin, and dragging down everyone’s home value.

      Is that preferable to having a small home on it?

    • Designer girl

      and by the way, I don’t think this is a greed issue. did you read the quotes??? it’s about giving people a chance to OWN A HOME

    • Matt

      Let me get this straight, you are complaining about “greedy, irresponsible” developers, yet you want the city to give a “discount” to you and your current neighbors for the same piece of land? Of course, your motivation isn’t greed. That’s some blind hypocrisy.

    • frustrated

      You are right, of course.

  • UptwnGirl

    I would love a house like this! One of the reasons I rent is that I am a single person, who does not want or need a typical 3 bedroom, 2 bath house and a large yard to go with it. Smaller properties are shockingly hard to find.

    FYI, Robert, were you aware that nola.com uses your reports as a news source All. The. Time? At least daily they will have a headline similar to yours and the article will read “The Uptown Messenger reports…” http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/07/new_orleans_architect_looks_to.html#incart_river

  • Iko Properties

    This is very far from factual, I hope this agent was misquoted:

    “…there are only four houses Uptown
    that are selling for under 300 per square foot,” she said, adding that
    the new starter home will be a fifth, and an option that is in a highly
    sought after neighborhood. The other affordable Uptown houses she
    mentioned are in neighborhoods such as Hollygrove or Gert Town.”

    • frustrated

      Thank you.

      The blame, of course, is not on the person who lied, but on the writer for allowing it.

  • Designer girl

    Typical grousing about anything new in New Orleans. If you don’t want density, move to Slidell. This city is dense. Period. And who is not in favor of home ownership for God’s sake? I say Godspeed you guys. Build more.

  • swampwiz0

    I’d be interested in taking a look at the front view of the plan and seeing how the access to the bathroom is handled with the staircase there. I presume that there is 3′ width for the staircase, which would seem to not allow for much more than 5-1/2′ for the bathroom.

  • susann gandolfo

    great for house but bad for more parking problems – if they are building driveways, that is one thing but taking up space for two cars is not helping the neighborhood –

  • Marcus B

    What properties in the Irish Channel have sold for $400/sqft?

  • MonkeyTown

    The quotes are from the agent and the developers…why would someone who is trying to promote/sell something say anything negative about it? This is about money with no thought about impact on the neighborhood. Funny how they chose one of the hottest real estate areas for their “solution”. Here’s what I predict will happen… there will be bidding wars for these glorified doghouses, and the owners will turn them into AirBnB locations. These are basically apartment/hotel room sized “solutions”. This is NOT a long term “solution” for anything other than making a buck.

  • MonkeyTown

    This is a typical hipster reply …”move to Slidell”…”move to Metairie”…”go back to the burbs”… blah, blah. Look, there’s nothing wrong with fighting for your neighborhood (my family has been in the Channel for 160+ years)… not everyone should own a home. Remember the housing bust and what caused it? IMO, this tiny house thing is a BAD idea.

    • THE_ORIGINAL_STARCHY

      unregulated derivatives and systemic corporate fraud caused the housing crisis

    • bnchad

      why is it a bad idea?

    • Designer girl

      Ah MonkeyTown. Not hipster. Live near Tulane. Over fifty. Just not against new things.

  • Allen

    How do you build a Code Compliant house on a lot 16 feet wide (Code mandates 5′ from property line to bldg. wall)? Build a 6′ wide house? Get a Code variance through the City Council? And how tall is this house? 25′ or more? What about lateral wind loads? Heck, in the story lead the photo shows the house under construction is BRACED against the concrete block wall of the LaGasse warehouse. If that were built next to my house, I’d want to see all sorts of documented Engineering data and Stamped blueprints from a Licensed Architect and Engineer. “Look, Irma! Pat and Sallie’s house has tipped over onto our house.”

    Just because you CAN do something doesn’t make it a good idea.

    • THE_ORIGINAL_STARCHY

      check out LA’s Small Lot Ordinance for an idea of how this might all shake out. Its been a blessing and a curse

    • bnchad

      you get a hardship variance from the city

  • Matt

    I think this is a great idea. These lots would be marketed towards young professionals, like myself who are looking to enter the housing market. We want places to live that are close to where we work and also provide us access to local restaurants and stores. These are the types of developments that will continue to make New Orleans attractive to this demographic. As always, there will be the “not in my backyard” people who will find a way to complain, hamstringing the advancement of the future of the city for their motivations.

    • THE_ORIGINAL_STARCHY

      “We want places to live that are close to where we work and also provide us access to local restaurants and stores” – join the club! You “young professionals” are no different then the rest of us when it comes to neighborhood amenities

    • bnchad

      i have been wanting to do this for years

  • frustrated

    “Only four hours Uptown that are selling for under $300 per
    square foot”????

    That’s simply not true. Shame, shame on the writer for
    letting unchecked quotes go into a story. (This isn’t news; this is a slanted, puff piece.)

    Even if the statement were true, this person is not building
    in the area commonly known as Uptown, so why the comparison?

    We need low-income housing – much of it was destroyed during
    Katrina and prices now as outrageous – but this isn’t affordable housing. This is simply congestion, and we don’t need that.

  • frustrated

    And you believe that?

  • Lance932

    We have a huge shortage of affordable homes to rent or purchase especially Uptown and in Irish Channel. Better a small house on a small lot then a parcel filled with weeds and garbage that doesn’t contribute to the tax base.

  • Gisele Marie Berniard

    Thers a lot next door to me,can you help me to learn more

  • Kimberly

    I believe that these guys bought some lots on S. Saratoga and Foucher as well.