Jon Head, a real estate developer, and his partner, Darryl Despie have been working to create affordable housing for workers in Mono County.
With no handouts or grants from anybody.
When asked why they would do something like this on their own volition, Despie jokingly said, “We have been skiing here since the 60’s”
Head continued, “When I was young and living in these ski towns, the same problems existed. I struggled to find a place I could afford. As far back as twenty years ago, I have been talking about doing a project like this.”
When Head discovered a website designed to provide affordable housing in 2016, he started looking for land on parcel viewer, “Every day I looked at a new site and would call my agent (Rebecca Garrett) to see if it was available and checked the right boxes.” Said Head.
When asked what they were looking for, Despie explained “The main thing was to find an area that was designated multi-family.” After months of using parcel viewer to look at prospective sites, they purchased a parcel within walking distance of Gull Lake in June 2018.
The website Head used is titled ‘Affordable Resort Community Housing’ and provides custom designed workforce housing. They provide small houses that “can be fully constructed and habitable within 10% of the time it takes for conventional construction”
The shell of the cabin is made of steel and only takes 2-3 weeks to put on the foundation. The cabins are three feet off the ground which mitigates leakage/drainage issues. Head and Despie said these cabins could be built as early as January and worst case scenario puts them at a spring debut.
The project is small but also a test run, “We want to see how this works here and if it’s successful then we have a prototype to show anyone interested,” said Head.
The pair met in 3rd grade in La Canada. Head heard Despie singing ‘Battle of New Orleans’, so Head figured “I should be friends with this guy, he can memorize an entire song.”
While Head ended up going into real estate development, Despie had a varied career, not only spending some time working for Head’s father’s car dealership, but also spending time working as a disc jockey (the early singing a telltale sign). But Despie spent the majority of his career in the car business.
When Head decided he wanted to pursue this project, old friend Despie signed as both investor and co-conspirator. They said they wanted something tangible to show citizens and governments that this is a possible solution. If this development works as intended it could influence future workforce housing projects in mountain towns across the country.
Representatives from Tahoe and Colorado have been connected to the project and might utilize the design in their own markets.
The units being built are 800 square feet in size and have an acorn like design to lower costs and effectively deal with snow load. They have a mudroom, two bathrooms (one shower), washer/dryer hookups, a bedroom and a loft to put a second bed (at least two people a unit). Head and Despie are building five of these as a trial run.
Due to the shape of the houses, they the development is named “The Acorns.”
The pair received no government subsidies to do this project, “We met with Mono Planning commission to get permission and it was about a two hour meeting,” said Head. The commission wasn’t sure what to make of the project. It took two hours for them to understand the scope and put contingencies on the project in order to help fall in line with housing goals of the area. The main stipulation simply said they needed to be long term rental units.
Again. Repeat. No subsidies.
When asked how much he is looking to make, Head laughed and said “We will be lucky to break even.” But he also mentioned that the goal was not to make money. On top of providing workforce housing, Head and Despie wanted to see what type of logistical hoops they would have to jump through in order to complete this project.
The Sheet asked what would have made the process easier, and without hesitating they explained “It isn’t the county or town’s fault because they have state mandates to work with and often have their hands tied, but ‘fast track’ processing slowed us down the most.”
Head has a poster with two Harley Davidsons on it and the caption reads “They said It couldn’t be done. What they meant was they couldn’t do it.”
He says this is the motto he lives by.
Despie explained it best, “Jon was always very specific about what he wanted. I just told him if he needed funding I would help fund it. But it was a dream of Jon’s, and we wanted to do something where we grew up skiing. To build houses that are as affordable as possible.”