“Everybody deserves a stable foundation, especially children. There are people out there who really do care about them and are trying to figure out how to help,” Keri Major said.

The struggle is real. 

A housing study of the Lake of the Ozarks tri-county region proved the need that many could feel simply from living in the area. Government leaders embarked on implementation actions in 2017, but community leaders who felt the gap have been quietly at work on the problem as well. 

Darrin and Keri Major, pastors of The Tree 197, are working within their Camdenton church to fulfill a vision to create a tiny home community for single parents and young adults where there would be not just affordable homes but also supporting programs to help these families and individuals learn to lead sustainable lives.

“Everybody deserves a stable foundation, especially children. There are people out there who really do care about them and are trying to figure out how to help,” Keri Major said, explaining the goal as a way to provide a hand up, not a hand out, to those who are struggling financially.

While the Lake of the Ozarks may seem like a place of wealth and luxury, it is a different story off the shoreline for the working class. While the large population of weekenders, snowbirds and retirees supports a more robust economy overall, it also contributes to driving up housing costs in which lower incomes struggle to compete. Residential construction is often focused on upper middle to high income brackets rather than on housing for the service industry workers of Lake of the Ozarks.

Originally from the area and in ministry here more than 20 years, Keri Major has witnessed the struggles of working families at Lake of the Ozarks — people who are “working their hearts out” just to cover basic physical needs of food and shelter, working multiple jobs and still struggling to make ends meet.

The tiny home concept is something the Majors have had in mind for the last eight years or so, inspired by a book Keri read as the tiny home movement became popularized during the Great Recession. The Majors and some friends toured a tiny home development in Austin, Texas — Community First — aimed at helping those who were struggling with housing or were homeless. 

“We stayed several days and saw first hand how it worked. It was a really neat concept,” she said.

True homelessness — lack of any shelter — is not really the main issue at Lake of the Ozarks, said Keri, but house hopping and transient living due to low income rather than no income.

From the long-simmering vision, two years ago, The Tree 197 formed a non-profit to work on the idea in earnest. 

While the Austin tiny home community was only for single people, the Front Porch Village would feature slightly larger homes aimed at big living in a small space for families. The general concept right now would be a footprint of around 500 to 1,000 square feet either renting or possibly having a rent-to-own situation. They’d like for rent to be somewhere below $500 per month. Residents could possibly stay as long as they are satisfied living there, or just until they get back on their feet.

But it’s not enough just to downsize. In addition to a more affordable housing option, they also see a need to change the culture and mentality for a more sustainable lifestyle — how to live better on less and reverse the culture of thinking you have to have a lot of material things to be happy or fulfilled.

The vision for the community includes a community garden worked by residents and a community building with laundry facilities, a community kitchen for cooking classes and workspace for ongoing programs such as budgeting seminars and crafting. They’ve already had someone donate old kilns for art classes. 

The dream is big, but they believe it is doable, according to Keri, who was recently encouraged by the opening of a similar concept tiny home village in Springfield, Mo. Eden Village is for the homeless like Austin. 

While the Texas community was 27 acres, the vision for the Front Porch Village is more modest though. The Tree 197 is currently seeking — and praying for — a reasonably-priced or possibly free building site of half to one-third the size.

“We would be humbled and proud to have 10 to 12 acres or even an old trailer park,” said Keri.

An old trailer park could also give the project a leg up on utilities for the homes, with preexisting hookups, though the homes would not be built as closely together as a trailer park, she added.

“We feel like the need is huge, and we’re watching things come together; that’s encouraging, but it will all happen in God’s timing,” said Keri.

To get involved and/or to donate, contact Darrin Major at 573-552-5029 or 573-480-0279 or email dkmajor@sbcglobal.net.