Are Tiny Homes the Future of Shelter in America?

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In 2010, my wife and I escaped from our hometown of San Pedro, located on the coast in the beast of Los Angeles. Only after living 70 years and raising three kids there, did we realize we had to downsize our lifestyle and move elsewhere. It was a draining and wrenching decision too. With the effects of the Great Recession of 2008 teaching me yet another valuable lesson about real estate greed and capitalist-economics in California, we had to decide ―stay or go.

Financial zombies of distressed people, homes, and businesses were all over the place. The homeless number was growing too. As an architect, broker, and developer, I’ve seen and experienced this financial trauma several times in past recessions and two bankruptcies of my own. But the 2008 recession was a real doozy and very different for several reasons  This time a new minimalist mindset is going to be required, not only for me and my wife, but for millions of others as well.

To be clear, we didn’t have to move; it became our logical choice. Also about this time, I started researching the so-called tiny home movement. We discovered we weren’t alone, but a huge mental shift would be required if we were to survive and thrive in the future. We began by giving away or selling everything we couldn’t fit into an RV. I mean everything. And we didn’t have an RV yet (RVs are considered tiny homes in certain circles).

Indeed, our giving-trips to the Salvation Army were so many we lost count and it took us over three months to downsize. All financial documents and family photos were scanned and put on a thumb drive, our clothes became just the very basics and we began embracing the true-minimalist mindset: If we don’t need it ― we don’t want it. Pretty simple.

Fast forward nine years, the huge mental enema we took back then now feels great. What a relief it was! Thinking tiny was the catharsis we needed and it showed us a smart way forward.

Additionally since 2008, we’ve had the first black president (a good thing) but a criminal has been voted into the White House. That White House criminal has bought off a wide swath of voters with $1.5 trillion stolen from the Treasury’s taxes. This tells me that another and possibly even worse recession is on the way. Thinking tiny is becoming increasingly important.

Thinking Tiny is Critical for Millions

We’re now living on the beautiful central coast of Oregon, and to satisfy my architectural curiosity about tiny home living, I‘ve learned about all kinds of advocacy groups, including city planners, architects, developers, writers, artists, seniors, investors, vets, homeless organizations, and even entrepreneurs living in and launching businesses from their tiny homes.

Some amazing things are happening. Some nifty prefab tiny homes that can be put up in a few days, come in a box and can cost less than $12,000. Incredibly smart, environmentally safe, inexpensive off-grid designs are also available on Amazon. Some DIY plans start at just $27.

However, there is a lot more to this tiny home movement than most people realize and big problems loom for some tiny home enthusiasts. Critical differences exist between tiny homes on wheels (THOW) and small fixed-foundation homes and local building and fire codes. Some builders, city planners and architects are struggling with outdated building codes for dwellings less than 600 sq. ft., and this conflict often prevents new and unique, space-saving designs for mobile-tiny-home owners. For example; many of the popular 280 to 400 square feet loft-bedroom designs of THOW (with low ceilings and ladders) are at odds with most standard building and fire codes.

Another major consideration is where you park your THOW; even if it’s just a cute little trailer you built yourself, parking it for an extended period may violate some building or DMV code or may be prohibited by a local RV ordinance. This is where the homeless stigma often overhangs the actual need and advancement of the tiny home movement.

Thankfully, some cities “get it.” In Portland and Los Angeles, simply changing local codes from R-1 to R-2, was sufficient to legalize backyard units. Some investors are also buying tiny homes to give away free to existing home owners to put in others back yards, without a permit, and renting them out on AirBnB. Meanwhile, the term “Granny Unit” is also becoming synonymous with tiny home. In different words, with or without wheels, big bucks are coming to tiny homes.

Is a smaller or tiny house for you? It was for us.

By Richard Pawlowski, Contributor – rp@venturexpo.com

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