company leases backyards to build tiny homes
Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
July 22, 2024 ·  4 min read

California company leases backyards for 99 years to build tiny homes and rent them at affordable rates to fight the housing crisis

OBY is a housing company that is attempting two of the biggest problems we are facing today: lack of affordable housing and climate change. Short for our backyard, the California-based company is renting people’s backyards for 99 years to build tiny homes.

These homes are compact, eco-friendly living spaces that are addressing the state’s housing crisis in a unique way.

OBY: Our Backyard

“Our Backyard” is an innovative company that is tackling California’s housing crisis using the following model:

  • The company takes out a 99 year lease in someone’s backyard.
  • They build a tiny home in that space, which they rent out at below market rate.
  • The Homeowners make five hundred dollars per month in income, while the company finds tenants and takes care of all maintenance.

According to co-founder Declan Keefe, when the homeowner sells their house, the tiny home transfers with it.

“We’re purposefully doing that so that we can maintain the affordability long term,” he explained [1].

California Governor Gavin Newsom and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo have been working together to come up with possible solutions to California’s high cost of living and lack of housing. As such, they have made it easier for people to add accessory living units, like granny flats or other tiny homes, no properties that already have a house.

Image Credit: OBY

As such, Newsom has promised to add 3.5 million homes in California by the end of his term. Another tiny home company in San Jose has also raised 3.5 million dollars to build its “additional dwelling units”. These already have approval for permits within the city [2].

Our Backyard: A Small Environmental Footprint

Not only is OBY addressing the state’s housing crisis, they are also lessening the environmental impact of adding housing units. They are doing so by using sustainable materials, and building the homes so they are energy efficient.

Each OBY home is 576 square feet. They have wood frames, wood pulp insulation, and solar panels on the roof. The wood the company uses to build its homes come from sustainable forests, and sequesters carbon from the atmosphere. They also avoid using materials that are more carbon-intensive, such as concrete and gypsum board. 

Floor Plan | Image Credit: OBY

Instead of making them in a central factory, builders and carpenters located throughout the local area build the houses as prefabricated kits. Once they’re complete, Oakland company Arizmendi Construction Cooperative puts the pieces together onsite. This includes the foundation, plumbing, and electrical [3].

“It’s a way of distributing the labor so that we can actually do construction more quickly, but we can also spread around this value that’s being created from the expense of the house,” says Keefe [1]. 

He says that houses are expensive, and people often see them as a bad thing. He, however, sees them as a way to distribute wealth throughout the community. 

“And so if we just had a model where we could have more people sort of touching each individual project, we could actually distribute the expense of that home itself amongst the community,” he explained [1].

Take a Tour

These small homes contain two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, onsite laundry, and a dining/living space. Each design focuses on “compact living”. This means that they allocate more space to communal living areas, and less for sleeping areas.

OBY designs the homes for sustainability, with the goal of being carbon negative. This is why they run on solar power and use materials like wood that store carbon in the building itself. 

Living Room

Image Credits: OBY

“With our company, we’re always looking at what the alternative models are that we can utilize to help build more affordable, accessible, sustainable housing,” Keefe says [1].

Companies like Our Backyard are necessary now more than ever. According to one analysis, California should have built an additional seven hundred thousand housing units between 2008 and 2018 to avoid the current housing crisis [4].

There are many companies that are using the tiny home model to address this issue. OBY is unique, however, in its efforts to ensure long-term affordability. The company hopes to limit the cost of rent to no more than thirty percent of the tenants’ incomes over time.

If you live in California and are interested in having an OBY house in your backyard, check out their website to learn how to start the process.

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