Clarkston’s Big Idea to Boost Home Ownership Is to Go Small

Cottages on Vaughan - chairs around a firepit

Land is so scarce in the densely populated City of Clarkston that precious few new residential units have been built in the past decade.

And with rentals accounting for 85% of its housing stock, home ownership is elusive for many in this city northeast of Atlanta that calls itself “the most ethnically diverse square mile in America.”

An innovative use of space

A new development of Craftsman-style micro-cottages one block from downtown Clarkston is giving some a shot at home ownership.

Cottages on Vaughan, a neighborhood of eight one-bedroom homes – each under 492-square-feet built – sold out quickly earlier this year at prices that ranged from $120,000 to $200,000. None was subsidized.

Cottages on Vaughan is a collaboration between the City of Clarkston and the MicroLife Institute, a local developer that advocates for zoning policies that foster connecting community.

The innovative project aligns with the city’s 2040 goal of providing more home ownership opportunities and with the desires of its residents expressed in the Clarkston Speaks survey.

“Social equity is inherently built into the Cottages on Vaughan,” said William Johnston, executive director of the MicroLife Institute and a Cottages resident. “These homes create an opportunity to accessible home ownership for anyone looking to either downsize their way to happiness or buy their first home.”

Cottages on Vaughan is the winner of ARC’s 2021 Regional Excellence Award for Innovative Development.

New city ordinance allows for smaller homes, lots

Cottages on Vaughan was developed over several years with strong support from the City of Clarkston. In May 2019, the city unanimously passed an update to their cottage-court ordinance that allows smaller homes to be built on smaller lots. Among other things, the ordinance reduced the minimum parking requirements for homes.

After it passed, the MicroLife Institute worked closely with community groups and residents through visioning meetings to develop the plan.

Cottages on Vaughan addresses metro Atlanta’s “missing middle” gap — the lack of places to live that aren’t either traditional single-family houses or multi-story apartments.

Encourages social interaction

While the homes afford plenty of privacy to its residents, the neighborhood is set up in such a way that not only encourages contacts but alleviates loneliness. The room-size front porches make it easy to connect with neighbors. All eight cottages surround a green area.

Cottages on Vaughan has community areas such as a fire pit and picnic tables to encourage residents to come together. This has been so successful that the neighbors organized a text group to keep in touch and coordinate weekly brunch and dinner gatherings.

Plus, the parking location helps with these interactions. All parking is situated at the rear, which means that anyone who comes to the project must walk through the neighborhood and interact with residents, Johnston explained.

A “golden opportunity”

As the project was in development over the last two years, Johnston, who was renting a 400-square-feet apartment, realized he wanted in on this “golden opportunity.” He bought one of the properties, choosing red for his exterior.

“I love the idea of being in the established city of Clarkston, but also in this new community,” said Johnston. “The day-to-day is amazing because I’m able to connect with my neighbors by waving through my window or going on a quick trip to the mailbox.”


What’s Next ATL, produced by the Atlanta Regional Commission, is a community resource that explores how metro Atlanta is growing and changing, and how the region is addressing its most pressing challenges.