Designing urban neighbourhoods for tiny living

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Principal | Chief Executive Officer

Can tiny living prove to be a viable solution for the housing problems in America?

The answer to this question is not as simple as you would’ve liked. If you look at the bigger picture, you will realize that this question stems from multiple areas of concern.

I want to address each of those problems and try to come up with a probable answer. For the sake of brevity, I have divided this guide into four sections, each dealing with a specific aspect.

What Is Tiny Living?

Before talking about anything else, I must address the concept of tiny living. Although you would likely be familiar with it, let’s take a closer look at what makes a tiny home.

First of all, how big (or should I say small) does a house need to be to qualify as “tiny”? Nothing has been set in stone when it comes to the size of a tiny home, but it is usually between 100-400 square feet. However, anything less than 1,000 square feet may also be included, given the median house size is 2,600 square feet in America.

A tiny home is based on the concept of simple living without wasting resources. If you’ve ever stepped foot in one, you would see that it features an exceptionally minimalist design. It is based on three pillars (not literally) - environment-friendly, multi-utility, and space-saving, and every element is in line with those pillars - from folding furniture and beds, to renewable energy.

Moreover, there are two types of tiny homes you will find out there. Some are mobile homes, more commonly known as Tiny Homes On Wheels (THOW), while others come with a firm foundation like any conventional house.

Why Is It Trending?

Tiny Living” and “Tiny Homes” have become catchphrases for the millennials. In the last few years, the “Tiny Living Movement” has been trending on social media, but why has it gained so much popularity? The reason for that is multifold, with housing affordability being the most significant.

It is a well-established fact that affordable housing options are few and far between for a lot of Americans. Irrespective of whether you buy a house or rent it, you’re likely to spend a significant chunk of your earning on accommodation, and the increasing income inequality is only adding to the problem. Moreover, not to mention the fact that policies for land use and American housing predominantly favor the wealthy.

Tiny living serves as a much-needed means of addressing the housing affordability problem. How much does a small home cost, you may be wondering? Again, there isn’t one number that I can mention here.

Although the majority of tiny homes cost somewhere between $35,000 - $45,000, it may go up to $80,000 and even as low as $1,500. One thing is for sure - it costs significantly less than any standard single-family house. The median price of new homes in the US is almost $300,000, which is only one of the reasons why tiny living is trending today.

With increased awareness about the environment and climate change, many people are transitioning away from excessive materialism. Apart from that, people are becoming more aware of the American cycle of debt. Lastly, it cannot be denied that small structures can be used as a practical way to provide a roof and shelter to the homeless and poor.

What Is The Need For Tiny Homes In The USA?

I have already talked about the benefits of tiny living, because of which it has gained popularity of late. However, can’t the American masses get those benefits elsewhere? As it turns out, a tiny home seems to be the only saving grace for the time being.

There is a massive shortage of small apartments/houses in the United States currently, which means that low-income groups do not have adequate housing options available to them. In fact, according to a study conducted back in 2014, there was a shortfall of 4.9 million affordable housing units.

I think you should look at the other end of the spectrum to gain a better understanding of the need for tiny homes by asking the question, “What is the need for large homes?”

A UCLA study found that most people spend the majority of their time near the television or in the kitchen. So, the living room and porch are rarely used, making them extra or redundant. This results in the wastage of resources for the construction of these spaces, and higher energy consumption for no good reason.

Is It Possible To Bring Tiny Homes Into The Urban Environment?

It is time to address the all-important question - can you bring tiny homes into an urban neighborhood? Not really, unless some significant changes take place, especially in the regulations that affect the housing industry.

While people in several states look at manufactured housing as a possible solution, it cannot be implemented unless policymakers amend the regulations that deem it illegal at present. No wonder tiny homes have eluded the cramped urban areas and stayed in sprawling outskirts.

Some cities have zoning or restrictive covenants for the minimum lot or house size, thereby eliminating the possibility of building small homes. Whether it’s a home builder or a potential buyer who is interested in making the switch to tiny living, most urban neighborhoods will not be the go-to locations for now.

That’s not all; another problem associated with tiny homes is that they do not offer decent resale values. So, people in the cities might be a tad bit reluctant to move into one.

Summing It Up

So what is the solution? The mindset of people needs to change first. What will be the use of bringing tiny homes to the cities if enough people aren’t willing to move into them? A small house does not mean low quality of life, because bigger isn’t always better.

It’s safe to say that current land-use regulations need to be altered if tiny homes are to make their way into the urban areas of America. What can communities do to make a difference? Develop Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) standards, or if possible, move from the traditional zoning regulations to Form-Based Codes (FBCs).

As long as tiny houses are integrated into urban neighborhoods and communities in an aesthetically pleasing manner, nobody should be unhappy. But only time will tell.

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