Airdrie could eventually be home to a new tiny home development thanks to a pair of philanthropists and longtime Airdronians who are offering up a proposed solution to help ease the affordable housing crisis in the community.
During a regular meeting of council on Jan. 16, council heard a presentation from Jim and Laura Noble, a husband-and-wife duo whose “servant hearts” have led them to build tiny homes to house those in need in under-developed countries.
The Nobles were also accompanied by their good friend, business partner, and former Airdrie City councillor Richard Siemens, who has teamed up with them for the project.
“Over the last 20 years, we built over 4,000 homes and have given them to the poor so far,” Jim Noble said of their charitable efforts to build a tiny home development in El Salvador.
“As we age, travelling to third-world countries and fighting off disease and often possibly gangs, we’re trying to do and would like to do more in the city of Airdrie.”
He added though the proposed Airdrie tiny home development is not the same type of project or obligation as the one in El Salvador, it is a similar concept, and a simple one at that.
“The biggest moving piece for us to go forward would be land, and I believe strongly we can raise the money,” he told council.
According to Noble, the trio's aim is to raise funds and materials to make a gift of tiny homes to the City of Airdrie, with a tentative budget set for 20 homes (approximately 400 to 500 square feet) at $80,000 each, for a total budget of $1.6 million. The project would require the City to provide approximately two acres of land.
Noble said the project’s aim is to help those who are “deficient in housing” in Airdrie.
“There's people sleeping on couches and other people’s homes,” he said. “There are people that are going to the food bank because they can’t pay the rent and buy food. There are lots of situations.”
Former Airdrie councillor Siemens has been involved with the Rocky View Foundation for many years. The foundation provides affordable housing options for seniors living in the Rocky View County region, with facilities in Crossfield, Cochrane, and Airdrie.
He admitted though he has not personally seen a lot of people “sleeping under the bridge” in Airdrie, there is certainly a need for affordable housing in the community – a fact that was made abundantly clear by a housing assessment conducted in Airdrie back in 2017, which found the city's below-market housing stock was woefully inadequate.
“We are living in interesting days. When I read the breaking point is $71,000 a year....there are a lot of people in Airdrie that still don’t make $71,000 a year,” he said. “We think we have the opportunity to provide housing for some of these people, be it short or long term.”
He said the project is not defined for any specific group or population, but in a general sense would provide housing to get people through difficult times and “to get them on their feet and give them a sense of dignity and the ability to pay the bills themselves.
“That’s really what we want to do, and we think that’s doable, but we need some partnership in this,” he said.
Laura Noble said the trio have met and worked with a lot of people over the last 20 years through their philanthropic efforts, both near and far.
“We have servants’ hearts. We want to serve. We’re serving the Third World. We’ve always loved to serve our community,” she said. “I think the times we’re in, if we can get a momentum of that servants’ heart pulling together, it’s amazing the resources people have and are willing to commit.
“I think it’s something we all share and it’s something we see can be such a valuable component to moving forward and accomplishing things.”
According to Laura, in the past, when the team started a project with a story, support, and commitment behind them, they saw people jump on board, and she said she believes Airdrie has enough big-hearted people willing to support the initiative.
The presentation was a means to gauge council’s interest in the project, according to Noble, adding it is simply an “initial conversation” to get the ball rolling. Details would have to be determined going forward, such as who would qualify to live in the unit, who would manage it, where the homes would be built, and the various building requirements and zoning.
Furthermore, the team would need to investigate the design concept and the target group of people for the project, if it is to go ahead.
“The key for this is that it does not fail. Airdrie Housing Ltd. and Rocky View Foundation have some great experience in what’s needed,” he said. “In El Salvador, we have a team of people that go out and interview people and see what their needs are.
“We don’t have that here, so we would want that type of input if we possibly could, and if land is available just to know exactly what we can and can’t do with it.”
Noble feels the rental homes would provide the people living in them with a more spacious living arrangement than a hotel-turned-apartment complex would, such as is the case with Airdrie Housing Ltd.'s plans to convert a former hotel building on East Lake Boulevard into studio apartments.
“I realize the significance of density, but I also realize in what we’ve accomplished in El Salvador that when people have a little bit of their own property, when they’re not shoulder to shoulder, people take ownership, even though they don’t own it,” he said. “And it’s just better community.”
Furthermore, Noble believes the homes would serve as a bridge opportunity for people who need to get somewhere “secure,” and they might give them a chance to go back to school or improve their financial circumstances.
“They’ve got a little bit extra money to improve their situation – maybe it gives them an opportunity to get away from a bad situation for a while until things settle down,” he said. But there may be some that you know things are never going to change.”
Following the presentation, Coun. Tina Petrow said she is eager to see where this project will lead, adding it is a “noble” idea.
“I’d love to see some progress on this and see where this can go, see if there’s land available and what that would look like,” she said.
Coun. Candice Kolson said she believes the tiny home development would be a great opportunity for the City of Airdrie.
“I think it’s wonderful that it was weighing on your heart that, ‘Maybe we should look at being involved in our own community,’ even though you’ve done remarkable things in other places,” she said.
“I just wanted to thank you for bringing it forward and making time to come here and I hope that council and City staff can also make the time to see how we can make this a reality.”
Mayor Peter Brown said though there wouldn’t be a notice of motion at the Jan. 16 meeting, it would give council a chance to “walk away and ponder it a bit.”
“Then, I think you’ll see a lot more moving forward in the next 30 days,” he said. “As you heard very clearly from council, they’re very supportive of this initiative.”
According to Brown the team has impacted thousands of people through their work and he is eager to see that similar charitable spirit come to Airdrie.
“I’ve seen the work you’ve down down south and I'm just so appreciated of that love and care coming from Airdrie and our community and sharing it with people that you’ve never met, and now re-purposing that gift and giving it to people who are in great need here,” he said.