We’re Building a Tiny Home Village to Help Solve Our Worker Shortage

  • Maggie and John Randolph are building affordable housing in their Southern New Hampshire community.
  • It began as a way to provide housing and childcare to employees at their long-term care facility.
  • Now, they are going beyond that and building affordable housing for the community. 

This story is based on a conversation with architect Maggie Randolph and her husband, contractor John Randolph, who are building a tiny home village in Dover, New Hampshire. The two met in 2015 while working on a project together. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

John: In addition to being a contractor and a designer, we run two assisted-living facilities in southern New Hampshire. We’ve been doing assisted living and memory care for about 12 years and we have about 80 to 90 employees right now. 

We met during a project we were working on in 2015

John: I retired from the military in 2010 and after that, I started to partner with businesses — we would buy the real estate and then retrofit it to what the businesses wanted. 

One of the businesses we did this for was an assisted living facility, and the person we were doing it with wasn’t interested in the 24-hours a day, 365-day per year nature of the business. I ended up buying her out and that’s how I got into the business.

Then, in 2015, we started on our second assisted living project, a memory care facility. That is where Maggie and I met — she was working on the design for the project.

Like many in the healthcare space, we struggled with staffing during the pandemic

John: Pre-pandemic, we just really started to struggle with getting staffing. Then, once the pandemic started, people started to leave the industry because the chance of coming to work and getting COVID, or dealing with it, was so high.

Maggie: We pay our staff competitively. We’re locally-owned and in the building everyday, so it’s personal. And we try to keep it affordable for our seniors as well. So, in order to avoid passing on enormous rate increases for seniors, we had to get creative with benefits.

John and Maggie Randolph stand in front of the tiny home community they are developing in Dover, New Hampshire.

John and Maggie Randolph in front of the tiny home community they are developing in Dover, New Hampshire.

Courtney Warren

So, we asked our staff: what are your greatest challenges? We heard over and over: “I drive an hour from work and I drop off my kids in a separate town, and then I drive another 45 minutes here, then I turn around and do it again.” So what could be an eight-hour day quickly turns into a 12-hour day. We knew we had to address this. 

We are building places where our employees can live in affordably​​

John: On the property of our second business — in Durham, where our care center Harmony Homes is located — there was a portion approved for a 55-and-over duplex.

Maggie: The town of Durham allowed us a change in zoning that allowed a multi-use building, so we have seven one-bedroom apartments and a childcare center. The town did stipulate that anyone who lived in the apartments had to be an employee of Harmony Homes, and it’s been very popular with our staff. 

You don’t have to live there to use the daycare. So being able to drop your kids off where you work is a game changer for staff and for us as a business. It gives someone the ability to get on their feet a little bit. 

We also came up with a program where we rent these units out at 30% of a full-time employee’s pay.

John: Since Maggie and I did most of the labor to build the building, we were able to cut about $550,000 off the project. That allowed us to really be able to give that 30% rate. Now, we have a waitlist for the apartments and our childcare is full.  

We decided to build a 44-homes tiny home community in Dover, about 15 minutes from Durham, to meet the need we were seeing. The cool thing is those tiny homes will allow us to go well beyond our staff needs — we’ll be able to start to support the community. 

It will be a cottage-court style community with a New England aesthetic

Maggie: The units each have one bedroom and a 16′-by-24′ footprint. 

They also have a 60-square foot loft, so they’re about 540-square feet in total.  We’re building the lofts tall enough that you can stand up very easily. Because they’re taller, they don’t feel so small. 

New england style homes in Rhode Island

New England-style homes in Rhode Island.

Tim Graham/Getty Images

They’ll have a simple, New England aesthetic and be arranged in a cottage court-style. It’s a type of housing where the homes have a smaller footprint and the entire development has a community feel. We’ve taken inspiration from other pocket neighborhoods like the ones that architect Ross Chapin builds on the West Coast.

We’ve turned the backs of these units to the street where the parking is, and faced the entrances to a common green, so it will encourage community. People can feel connected and — even in a rental unit — feel like “these are my four walls and I can plant flowers outside of them.” 

John: We try to build places that we really see ourselves living in with our children. That’s the quality that we want — not just affordable, but something that our staff says “I’m proud to live here. I’m proud to be part of this.” 

We think this can be replicated elsewhere as a way to create sustainable local economies 

John: I think this type of model is replicable everywhere. 

I think you need to look at it a couple of ways: our goal is for whatever we build to be self-sustaining, so its income will pay for the property management and maintenance. We’re not going to cashflow a ton of money from it, but as a long-term investor, if I can build things at 75% of appraised value, then I can build equity in the real estate.

So we’re not completely altruistic in it.

Now, if you’re looking for a 9% return next year, or 10% return next year, it’s not ideal. 

John and Maggie Randolph in front of the tiny home community they are building in Dover, New Hampshire

John and Maggie Randolph in front of one of their tiny homes.

Courtney Warren

But I look at the very big picture, and it’s just economics: if we don’t build affordable housing in Southern New Hampshire, then large international companies will leave our area. If we don’t build a sustainable housing market, the people that own a $750,000 house here will be disappointed 20 years from now when there’s no one there to buy that $750,000 house.

If we don’t build affordable housing, we’re going to lose a lot of high school graduates and college graduates. They’ll move out of the area, and we’re not going to draw any more in, and eventually that’s going to harm businesses.

That’s just being realistic, New Hampshire has 150,000 people over age 65 right now, and it’s projected to go over 600,000 in the next two decades. 

So Maggie and I have four times as many customers coming in the next decade or two. But if there’s no one there to staff the building, then we fail.

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