Agents of Change: Linda Brown's tiny homes foster 'dignity and self-worth'
Eden Village, a tiny-home community for the chronically homeless, opened its doors in 2018. There are now 11 tiny home villages underway around the country.
Editor's note: Across the country, agents are giving back to their communities and their industry. Here, we shine a light on people creating positive change and inspiring others to look for ways they can make a difference as well.
The man walked through the front door, went straight into the bedroom and fell to his knees.
He was thanking God for a place of his own. For getting off the streets. And, indirectly, for the work that real estate agent Linda Brown did to get him there.
"Those are the things that keep me going," said Brown, an agent with Amax Real Estate in Springfield, Missouri, and the founder of Eden Village, a tiny-home community where homeless people can be safe, build community and start new lives.
Brown entered the real estate industry in 2007, and in 2010, she and her husband David established The Gathering Tree, an evening drop-in center for homeless people, as part of their church outreach.
One night in 2016, Brown watched as the people who had spent time doing laundry, taking showers and recharging at The Gathering Tree went back out into the cold, wet night.
She made her living finding homes and handing over keys to her clients, she thought. Didn't these people deserve the same?
Brown and her husband approached other agents, local businesses and churches with their vision, and raised enough money to buy a vacant mobile-home park, which they transformed into the 31-unit Eden Village. Each 400-square-foot home costs about $40,000; clients pay about $300 a month in rent. The first resident moved in in 2018.
A second village was built in 2020, and there is another in the works.
The average age of a chronically homeless person is 55, and they are "often overlooked," Brown said. It's gratifying "to see someone now have dignity and self-worth," she said of the "friends" who live in Eden Village.
"They are not sharing the wall with somebody else, they are not in a camp outside," she said. "They have their own privacy. It's their place."
Brown's real estate career has played a huge part in finding properties, and it has also provided a shared community of giving. "I have had such support from the real estate community," she said.
In fact, the first tiny home was purchased by Coldwell Banker, which inspired the Board of Realtors to do the same. Keller Williams built them a huge workshop, and ReeceNichols Real Estate furnished the nonprofit with a building for their community store.
The homes come furnished with new furniture and supplies.
"Everything in that home is brand-new," Brown said. "We are saying to our friends, 'We would live here.' If we put all hand-me-downs in there, it would say, 'You're lower than us.'"
In March 2021, the Browns attended a conference with 35 people from several states interested in creating their own tiny-house villages. The Browns help them through the process "so they don't have to reinvent the wheel."
There are now 11 tiny home villages underway around the country.
In 2013, Linda received a National Association of Realtors Good Neighbor Award for The Gathering Tree; in 2020, she got another one for her work on Eden Village.
Since starting their nonprofit work, the Browns have raised $4.75 million toward permanent housing for the homeless.
Before becoming a real estate agent, Brown was a nurse, which caused her to see people differently and to appreciate their stories. She learned we are all the same, "and that has been vital."
"In real estate, when you take someone and open a home, you know right off. That excitement is huge for me," she said of her clients. "And I get the same feeling for my friends when they open the door.
"I can't even tell you the feeling it is to see somebody who has nothing walk into a place," she said. "It is overwhelming for them. And it is something that you don't forget."