By Susan A. Romano, AFTAC Public Affairs
/ Published November 04, 2020
PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- It is only 400 square feet of living, eating, sleeping, dressing, bathing, and recreational space for two adults and a child. It is also the place the Inniss family proudly calls home.
Staff Sgt. Kevin Inniss and his wife Shanice are living the dream through a grant courtesy of the Operation Tiny Home, a national non-profit organization in partnership with Sutter Home Family Vineyards.
Inniss, a computer knowledge manager by trade, joined the Air Force in 2012 and has been stationed both overseas and stateside. He has experienced his share of confined spaces during his military career between the barracks at basic training, dorm rooms at tech school, and tents during overseas contingency operations.
After living in Japan for almost five years, the couple returned to the States and Inniss transferred to the 709th Cyberspace Squadron at the Air Force Technical Applications Center here. Within a few weeks, they noticed an emergence of tiny homes throughout the U.S., and realized right away it was path they wanted to take for their own living accommodations.
“We watched ‘Tiny House Nation’ religiously, and the more we watched, the more we knew we wanted to make our dream become a reality,” said Kevin. “So in January 2019, we moved into a 1-bedroom apartment to save money and prepare ourselves for what life would be like living in a much smaller space.”
Their apartment lease was a short one – just four months – and during that time they researched what it would take to convert their Volkswagen Eurovan into a full-time camper. By April, they had sold the majority of their belongings, put a few items in storage, dropped their then 3-year old daughter off at Kevin’s parents’ house in North Carolina, and returned to Florida to begin their nomadic life as van-dwellers.
“We lived in that vehicle for nearly an entire year, and believe me when I tell you, it wasn’t easy,” Kevin said. “It took a lot of effort to calculate every move, from where we would sleep each night, to where we would shower and do laundry, to how we’d prepare our meals.”
Shanice added, “That, coupled with the fact that we missed our daughter so much, made many days – and many nights – very difficult. We knew we were missing out on key life events and milestones in Urie’s life, and at times is was emotionally exhausting. But Kevin and I leaned on each other a lot throughout the whole journey.”
Nevertheless, the couple was determined to make it work, despite the challenges they incurred. A unique issue Kevin faced was the concern his chain of command expressed when they learned he was living in his car.
“As a first sergeant, my role is to ensure our Airmen have all the resources they need to house, feed and provide quality medical care for themselves and their families,” said Senior Master Sgt. Scott Gero, 709th Support Group First Sergeant at the time. “My initial reaction when I learned that Sergeant Inniss was living in his car was, ‘How did we let this happen?’ But after learning about his goals, listening to his story first-hand, and seeing that his living conditions were conducive to military life, I had nothing but admiration for him.”
Inniss continued, “The Air Force goes to great lengths to ensure their Airmen are taken care of and have all the creature comforts they need for their own safety and well-being. It’s extremely uncommon to have an active duty member living more or less like a homeless person, so it took some convincing on my part to let my supervisors and commander know this was my choice and it wasn’t because I was broke or without the resources I needed to take care of my family.”
On the contrary, one of the reasons the Innisses decided to take this unusual route was to put themselves on the road to financial independence.
“As important as it was for us to find a place of our own that we could afford, it was equally important for us to be debt-free while pursuing this goal,” he said. “We also wanted to set our daughter up for future financial success, and to have what we refer to ‘generational wealth’ begin with us. Since undertaking this project, we’ve been able to see more and do more with our paychecks. It’s a very liberating feeling!”
Fast forward to the summer of 2019, when they met with a design company to talk about floor plans, land plots and timelines and after securing a builder, they began looking for land.
“I found a company here in Brevard County that worked with tiny home customers and once we found the right lot that suited our needs, we began preparing the site with water, power, internet, and concrete for the pad that ultimately would be the foundation of our home,” Shanice said.
Interest grew from members of the media and after a series of interviews with various news outlets, the Innisses were contacted by Operation Tiny Home, who agreed to give the family a grant that would match their down payment.
Just last month, Kevin and Shanice were finally handed the keys to their new home.
When asked what advice he would give someone who was considering downsizing into a tiny home, Kevin and Shanice looked at each other, smiled, and laughed.
“It’s so important to really do your research and set realistic goals for yourself,” he said. “The HGTV network has done an amazing job at making people feel like they can easily live in a 300-sq.ft. home until they actually have to live in it! You just have to have grounded expectations.”
Shanice said, “There are definitely drawbacks and disadvantages in living in such a small space compared to living in a ‘regular’ home, but it also has great benefits, too. You don’t necessarily have to adopt a 100 percent minimalistic lifestyle to support your aspirations, but you definitely have to have a lot of patience and balance to make it work.
Kevin recalled the precise moment it all came together for him.
“When I saw the look on Urie’s face when she saw her bedroom, it made every single sacrifice worthwhile,” he said. “We have moved so much and lived in government quarters with stringent rules, so she never had the opportunity to make a room all her own. It’s the best feeling knowing we are giving our daughter a head start in this world through personal ownership and financial security.
As is the expectation with military life, however, the Inniss family received orders and will be relocating to Germany in December, and while they hoped to rent their tiny home out while they are overseas, instead they’ve opted to put the trailer in storage until they return to Florida.
“When I look back at everything we went through to get to where we are today, I’m very proud to see the fruits of our labor. For a kid from Brooklyn, my career choice has been a blessing, given us lifelong friends and has set us up for future success. I wouldn’t trade it for the world!”