CHATHAM COUNTY, N.C. — One in five adults experience mental illness every year in the United States, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. One Pittsboro nonprofit is working to make sure people facing those challenges have one less obstacle in their way.

A new affordable tiny home community, that’s preparing to open this fall, aims to help people on their recovery journey. The community will offer much more than just a place to call home.

What You Need To Know

  • The Farm at Penny Lane is a community in Chatham County designed to help people with mental illness

  • The community has resources like horticulture therapy and animal therapy

  • Garman Homes is helping build 15 tiny homes in the community which will be rented out for a third of the resident’s income

  • Five of the 15 homes will be designated for veterans with chronic health conditions

There’s a quaint bunny village tucked away on 40 acres in Chatham County.

“This is part of our animal-assisted programing that we have here,” Tahva Mahadevan, the director of the Farm at Penny Lane, said. “Bunnies can be quite anxious and nervous, but holding onto a bunny can really help you learn how to calm yourself down.”

This resource is part of the community known as the Farm at Penny Lane, a cluster of 15 affordable tiny homes that’ll be rented out to people recovering from mental health challenges.

“We want everything to be out of the box here. In the box has not worked,” Mahadevan said.

Mahadevan has a clinical psychiatry background, working at UNC’s Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health.

“I started as a refugee from Sri Lanka, and just seeing so many people with mental health issues throughout my journey coming out of Sri Lanka really got me into psychology and wanting to get into a helping profession,” Mahadevan said.

He started the nonprofit Cross Disability Services, or XDS, almost two decades ago to approach mental health treatment differently.

“The clinical background really helps in terms of knowing what the needs are and what the void is in the traditional medical system,” Mahadevan said.

The tiny homes in this community are a big part of that vision.

“Oh, it’s unbelievable. I mean, it’s a ten-year dream coming true for me,” Mahadevan said.

Garman Homes, a Cary based homebuilder, and countless trades professionals from the area have donated resources to bring this community to life. Each home is a little over 400 square feet and will be rented out for about one third of the resident’s income. Mahadevan says housing often stands in the way of recovery.

“If you don’t have that basic security of a home, everything else is so hard. It becomes a huge challenge,” Mahadevan said. “This will really change people’s lives in a huge way, especially for people with serious mental illness.”

He believes these homes, combined with their unique community resources, will provide a holistic and sustainable approach toward mental health and may even be a template for other places to learn from.

“It’s unbelievable how much money we spend providing reactive care, waiting for people to show up at the emergency room. And just because someone shows up at the emergency room doesn’t mean their problems are going away. That’s just a place to stabilize. And then there is no other place to for them to go back. So they go back on the streets and then it becomes a revolving door,” Mahadevan said.

“It can be done. I mean, we are doing them here and I don’t see any reason why we cannot replicate this in every 100 counties of North Carolina. It can be done,” Mahadevan said.

Alaina Money-Garman, the founder and CEO of Garman Homes, says she believes private and public partnership are key to addressing affordable housing challenges.

“We have benefited greatly from building homes in Chatham County for years. And so this was an opportunity for us to go beyond our target demographics and really learn something about the people who are marginalized by our industry. The people who housing does not see or can’t solve for,” Money-Garman said.

As for rental applications for the tiny homes, Mahadevan says they’re starting with the almost 2,000 clients at UNC’s Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health. Five of the 15 homes will be designated for veterans with chronic health conditions. They plan on welcoming people to move in around Thanksgiving of this year.