July 22, 2014 § 80 Comments
*There is a follow up to this post located HERE*
This is going to be a whole string of opinions and you may not like me as much at the end. I’m okay with that, I think these are thoughts that need to be aired. This is in regards to tiny houses on wheels.
There is a system to integrating codes. There are categories. There are ways in and there are ways out. I am worried about one of the methods being used to get tiny houses legalized. That is as a solution to homelessness. There are a few reasons this makes me nervous, the first being that tiny houses are not the best answer for this. They are not ‘cheap housing’. Tiny houses are really for the middle class. Even if you build it yourself on any sort of a reasonable timeline they will run you about $25,000 (yes you can do it cheaper as per the example of my house @ ~$11,500, it extends your timeline). Say you have a 150 s.f. house at 25K, that is 166 dollars a square foot. That is astronomical! That is almost 100 dollars a square foot more than the average in this country right now (census), and that is a very cheap tiny house! Aside from that it wouldn’t be smart growth, it would be poding together a bunch of tiny houses, not the most efficient model.
The best way to use tiny houses in a city is [in my opinion] is as a series of infill homes, aka increasing densities by adding another structure to an existing home lot. Similar to the example being set in parts of Portland. To increase density, not decrease homelessness. To decrease homelessness is a noble cause and should be sought but I am leery of developments wanting to use a tiny house model as a solution, I fear it may have negative consequences on the tiny house community as a whole.
To address homeless housing I believe the solution is building up (vertical), not out. We currently do this with many examples across the country such as the apartment building model. The shared walls are a cost savings. Not only that, you can take a one acre lot zoned R-40 lets say, on that lot you could legally park 40 tiny houses but logistically maybe only 25-30 could fit. You can take that same lot and feasibly build ten two-story fourplexes capitalizing on the entire lot and provide MORE housing than tiny houses would allow. My bet is it would be much more cost effective too to provide those ten fourplexes than 25 tiny houses. You are doing more with less money an providing a solution to more people, it’s far more efficient.
(Side note) To me, shipping containers seem to make much more sense, there are a lot of people out there trying to make apartment complexes out of shipping containers, homes can be built off site and shipped, making them cost effective, the best part is that they can be easily stacked and use less space, similar to this:
They can be attractive, they can be durable, they can be made inexpensively, they can be stacked and they can work. Tiny houses don’t fit the bill as well [in my opinion], I digress.
Furthermore, I feel we are doing tiny houses a disservice to call them ‘homeless housing’. I don’t like that it does, but calling them homeless housing DOES put a bit of a stigma to a tiny house. They are thought to be ‘less’ than ‘normal housing’. The fact is that they take money to construct, either in dollars or in time and location costs. If you are paying for one to be constructed they won’t be as cheap as the ones you see online a good portion of the time. My house is a great example, I paid $11,416.16 cents to build my house. I spend A LOT of time finding and conditioning reused materials. If I had to buy things new it would have cost about 22-25k I estimate. I have family with land i could build on, i didnt need to rent that space. They also had tools to use that i didn’t need to purchase and store. If I were to hire it built it would have cost 50-55k I estimate. That gets less and less feasible and wise (I am sure that that is the reason this is largely a DIY movement). Tiny houses are another option for the middle class and not the best solution to low income or ‘homeless housing’. But calling them low income housing makes them less appealing to some who could greatly benefit from them.
On that same note and perhaps the most scary part for me, we would be doing tiny houses a disservice to get them legalized as ‘homeless housing’. Codes would then be making exceptions to legalize in a specific category (similar to section 9 housing). Tiny houses would only become feasible if you are homeless or financially strapped, putting tiny houses out of reach for the standard person. Personally I want to live in a tiny house and still be able to make decent money, if they were legalized as low income/homeless housing I would not be able to. I fear that we are going to get them legalized that way and, without knowing it, put them into a category that is out of reach for many people.
IF they were going to need to be categorized under any special category I would much rather see them come in as 55+ housing. They make much more sense in THAT category (to me). They can be paid for by the sale of a larger, family home. They can enable seniors to stay independent. They are very fitting of empty nesters and singles. Retirees are a good portion of the audience who are interested. They would be a solution to get people out of feeling the need for a reverse mortgage (which I have a personal vendetta against). They offer a much needed alternative to standard retirement communities and enable people to truly enjoy their ‘golden years’. With the state of the nation it is doubtful the retirees in the future are going into retirement with much of a savings or pension, tiny houses offer a solution to all of that. I would MUCH rather see that code ‘category’ pursued. It may not seem as ‘noble’ but it makes SO much more sense in my opinion.
I DO like the models which are being built by homeless individuals as a way to give them a skill, enabling them to then get employed but I also believe that that model can be applied to other, more logical types of housing.
In conclusion, I feel that tiny houses are a luxury of the middle/upper class, I feel there are better solutions to cure homelessness, I am fearful that tiny houses will be put into the category of ‘low income housing’, putting them out of reach for the average person.
I know that there are going to be differing opinions on this and I would LOVE for you to state your opinion below in the comments!
*There is a follow up to this post located HERE*
And… just some quotes I liked: