QUINCY -- The Northeast Correctional Center in Bowling Green is launching an apprentice carpentry program that will train inmates to build tiny homes inside the prison's walls.
Once completed, the homes will be shipped out of the prison on semis and delivered to housing sites in Northeast Missouri and beyond.
The tiny homes are expected to sell for about $45,000 and will provide affordable housing to low- and moderate-income families who will pre-order the homes and pay for them using conventional mortgages. The buyers will be responsible for placing and securing the homes on concrete slab foundations and hooking up utilities.
The North East Community Action Corp., based in Bowling Green, will coordinate the sale and delivery of the homes as part of its mission to provide quality affordable housing to people in need.
"We're very excited about this," said Carla Potts, NECAC's deputy director for housing development. "People need good housing, and there's a shortage of affordable housing in our area."
The new prisoner-built housing initiative was announced Friday during the 2018 Tri-State Housing Summit at the Oakley-Lindsay Center, organized by NECAC.
Potts said the Northeast Correctional Facility has already approved the house-building program, which will be supervised by the Missouri Department of Corrections with oversight by the Carpenters Union of Greater St. Louis.
The union has already been training many apprentice carpenters, including some ex-offenders, through its Joint Apprenticeship Program. The program started building tiny homes earlier this year as a way to give apprentices some worthwhile building experiences, said Ron Tierney, the program's coordinator.
Tierney said that when he ran into someone from the Northeast Correctional Center at a building show, "they became very interested in the curriculum" as a way to teach usable skills to inmates nearing the end of their sentences.
Meanwhile, NECAC was looking for another way to provide low-cost housing to area residents. So the agencies agreed to team up and develop a house-building program that not only will produce 10 to 15 new homes a year for people in need, but also provide valuable training so inmates can develop skills and land good-paying carpentry jobs once they are released.
"It's a win-win for everybody," Potts said.
Tierney said the Carpenters Union sees considerable value in the program because it will help fill a void in the labor market.
"We're seeing a very large shortage of skilled labor in carpentry," he said. "I think we can make a go of this. We're in the infancy stages right now, but hopefully very soon we're going to start rolling some of these houses out of the Northeast Correctional Center."
Potts said she believes the prison's house-building program will kick into gear fairly quickly.
"Hopefully within the next few months we'll be building a house," she said.
Potts noted that the South Dakota Department of Corrections launched a similar program several years ago with a goal of building 10 to 15 houses a year at a single prison.
"Now they've built over 2,000," she said.
The Iowa Department of Corrections also hopes to start a similar tiny homes construction program at the Newton Correctional Facility east of Des Moines.
Dan Clark, director of Iowa Prison Industries, told the Housing Summit that the Iowa DOC is eager to get started. However, a vital piece of legislation providing $1 million in startup costs stalled in the Iowa Legislature earlier this year, causing a delay.
"There's a lot of support for the program," Clark said. "Across our nation, the supply of skilled trades is really at a critical point."
Lee Lindsay, a leader of the Quincy Area Habitat for Humanity program, praised the use of prison labor in the construction of interior walls used in some of the houses erected for the Habitat program, which helps low-income families acquire new homes.
"We have partnered three times with Taylorville Correctional Center, and through Lakeland College the former offenders were given 30 hours of college credit," Lindsay said during a Housing Summit session. "We just really enjoy and appreciate that partnership."