Tiny Houses — Not a Big Enough Choice

Tiny Houses — Not a Big Enough Choice

You’re more likely to have stepped into a tiny home if you surround yourself with people who love things like “clean eating,” yearlong vacations, and Marie Kondo coffee table books.

Remember that we are not talking about “small” homes. Tiny houses are architectural wonders that, as we all know, have been featured in magazines. These houses have many features, such as the combo shower tub made from a wine barrel. You can attach tiny houses to the backs of vehicles and take them on the road. If you don’t have the money to spend, you could leave your house in the Grand Tetons for one week before moving it to Acadia.

The idea of a tiny house was not a popular concept until the 2008 housing bubble burst and recession. Henry David Thoreau, an old-school lifestyle “influencer”, was one of the first to lead a simpler life in tiny homes. The idea that a tiny house can be beautiful and innovative, an idea that emerged out of the recession’s crater, feels like a backlash against the extravagant real estate dreams that once drew Americans to their homes. We dreamed of four-car garages and spiral staircases. We downsized our dreams when the housing market crashed.

Like many ideas in the upper-middle class, the tiny home is now being viewed as something all members of society can benefit from. Tiny houses are often presented as an eco-friendly alternative for traditional rooms, just in time to deal with the coming era of mass displacement from climate change. We don’t need to wait for sea levels to see how tiny houses could be used to solve our homelessness crisis. To address this problem, American cities are building tiny homes to solve it.

Historically, the fix for homelessness in America has been sheltering beds and, ideally, a case-manager-assisted segue to long-term housing. The problem is, that permanent housing for the homeless is not in sufficient supply. It’s not something that many communities want. Those who do want to build it are not getting enough support funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. More cities are embracing tiny houses in various ways, hoping to find a solution.

Tiny Experiments

Plugin house is a small, easy-to-build-it-yourself little house. Boston wanted wealthy homeowners to build these houses within their own backyards, ideally so they could be used for homeless people or low-income renters facing displacement. So that people could see them, the city even set up a prototype plug house at Government Centre plaza (a busy area of Downtown Boston).

It didn’t become policy. It was part of the pilot program where Boston examined the effectiveness of accessory dwelling units to help solve its affordable housing crisis. Los Angeles is going further with this idea. Los Angeles has been working to relax zoning laws to allow homeowners to rent and build their own ADUs, including tiny houses in backyards. The city also launched a pilot program where homeowners can get a 10-year, forgivable loan up to $75,000 to construct the ADU and house a homeless person (or tenant) who is enrolled in the city’s housing voucher program. This means that they would have to pay 30% of their income and the landlord would receive any difference between it and fair market rent from housing authorities. The loan can be forgiven if the ADU owner does not stop doing so for a further 10 years. Rent The Backyard, a for-profit start-up in the Bay Area, will provide eligible homeowners with an affordable tiny house in return for a portion the homeowner’s monthly rent.

Tiny Homes Will Not Fix Our Big Problem

One city is already using the idea. Seattle, home to Amazon and Starbucks, has been building tiny houses for the homeless with incredible momentum. The city has constructed 10 tiny houses villages on land owned by churches, non-profits and the government as of March 2013. The Low Income Housing Institute in Seattle funds each one. These tiny houses measure 8×12 feet in size and can be occupied by singles or couples as well as families.