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Tiny houses

fringe

Cyburbian
Messages
622
Points
17
In our area the number is growing of advocates of "tiny houses".

Have members here seen that kind of advocacy.

It is pitched here as a way to affordability and the designs are touted as righteously green.

I have not seen, however, really rational proposals as to how they can gain acceptance, other than as "camps" for homeless.
 

AG74683

Cyburbian
Messages
6,087
Points
26
They pop up every now and then here. Too bad they do not meet North Carolina State Building Code. We do not permit them in any capacity as a home. If they are to be used, they must be stamped and certified according to ANSI 119.5 standards and are treated the same as a park model R/V. I have two zoning districts where park models are permitted. We do not permit them to be used as permanent residences in any residential zone.

Basically, they are too small to meet minimum building code standards here.
 

DVD

Cyburbian
Messages
13,825
Points
40
I have no building standards so I'll allow them, but no one around here is interested in a tiny house. That would require tiny people.
 

fringe

Cyburbian
Messages
622
Points
17
Thanks for the replies.

I am near a college town where gentrification is pushing in-town housing out of affordable reach for many. Couple that with a 38% poverty rate (I think it is a national title) in a town where the college president makes 900K and commands a big slow boat with an ever growing administration and an aggressive building program that makes a lot of money for somebody, and your housing situation gets a little lopsided.

Some locals have gotten all in a lather about tiny housing being the way to affordability, and the college is actually teaching a course where they build a tiny house as part of a housing science course.

Now they are badgering local planners, asking them to show a way for tiny house development. The planners are not so enthused.

I think that allowing this kind of development as "housing" would be a step backward or a segregation of housing into two tiers, and, as time rolls on, the beginning of tiny slums.
 

AG74683

Cyburbian
Messages
6,087
Points
26
Now they are badgering local planners, asking them to show a way for tiny house development. The planners are not so enthused.
In most cases, these won't be a planner issue, they'll fall to building inspections/code enforcement. Most states use the IBC with local edits, and the IBC code has a minimum living space requirement (in addition to several other space requirements). Not sure how other states work, but in NC, the building code can only be changed by the code council. No local ordinance can override that code. Local authorities can adopt more stringent fire code regulations, but only with state approval.

It will take some deep pockets to make tiny homes a thing here.
 

DVD

Cyburbian
Messages
13,825
Points
40
That's just it. It's one thing to have a tiny house or two wedged into a wealthy neighborhood or placed on a larger homes property, but it's another to build a neighborhood of these things. In one case it's cute and well maintained by hip college students. The other becomes the only thing we can afford. Which is good to give low income families a place to live, but we really don't need a tiny ghetto. Unless you can find a way to maintain the house and the grounds I just see it becoming another version of a trailer park. Granted there are some nice trailer parks out there though.

Some thoughts to making it work.
Maybe a buffer requirement that says you can only get 1 tiny house every mile. Keeps away the clustered trailer park effect.
Require a minimum lot size. They get a normal residential lot, they just have a tiny house. Then if someone wants to build a real house it isn't an issue.
Treat it like a trailer park or condo complex. Set up specific zones or use permits and require things like a park or clubhouse for amenities. Basically you're trying to create a housing price that is higher than what most low income families will be attracted to, but lower than owning a normal house. I'm not sure if it's a good answer.
 

fringe

Cyburbian
Messages
622
Points
17
That's just it. It's one thing to have a tiny house or two wedged into a wealthy neighborhood or placed on a larger homes property, but it's another to build a neighborhood of these things. In one case it's cute and well maintained by hip college students. The other becomes the only thing we can afford. Which is good to give low income families a place to live, but we really don't need a tiny ghetto. Unless you can find a way to maintain the house and the grounds I just see it becoming another version of a trailer park. Granted there are some nice trailer parks out there though.

Some thoughts to making it work.
Maybe a buffer requirement that says you can only get 1 tiny house every mile. Keeps away the clustered trailer park effect.
Require a minimum lot size. They get a normal residential lot, they just have a tiny house. Then if someone wants to build a real house it isn't an issue.
Treat it like a trailer park or condo complex. Set up specific zones or use permits and require things like a park or clubhouse for amenities. Basically you're trying to create a housing price that is higher than what most low income families will be attracted to, but lower than owning a normal house. I'm not sure if it's a good answer.
I appreciate your thoughtful reply. The one tiny per mile idea looks to me like a hard one to get adopted. I agree with your thinking on developments that might get permitted and then decline. To me minimum standards for housing were hard won for the lower incomes, and should by no means be reduced.

I have seen too many minimum standard dwellings erected post Y2K, and they are the cheap ticky-tacky they were allowed to be.

The issue is on local body agendas, and I will post here what happens.
 

flbeachgirl

Cyburbian
Messages
61
Points
4
Tiny homes are not looked on favorably here in Florida, where there is no way they could comply with our hurricane/wind-load building codes. We still have enough to worry about with the legacy mobile home parks that get shredded during hurricanes.

I have seen a couple of examples of college housing that uses modular building design to accommodate lower-cost housing needs, but if I recall these were in areas that are not prone to severe weather. Outside of the college environment, I just do not see tiny houses as being the answer to affordable housing. Most of the tiny homes I've seen do not tend to be built with the best materials and will likely require constant and costly maintenance to remain livable. Put too many of them together in one place, and it is just a little too reminiscent of post-hurricane FEMA trailer camps.
 

fringe

Cyburbian
Messages
622
Points
17
flbeachgrl,

You raise an interesting term to me..."the college environment". We could see something like an upscale itinerant population there, no? BTW I have seen some mighty funny looking metal boxes traveling through south GA on the way to the gulf that look a lot like lower end housing.

There is a building boom, I understand, in all college towns where the building money preys on the student population especially in states where lottery programs subsidize skyrocketing tuition with scholarships that are not means-limited.
 

flbeachgirl

Cyburbian
Messages
61
Points
4
Fringe,

Lol - yes, there are a lot of those metal boxes heading our way about now. As long as they are on wheels we can easily send them back up north after Easter.
 

shell_waster

Cyburbian
Messages
240
Points
10
Fringe,

I don't have an answer but will be watching this thread and national trend closely. I recently fielded a call from an individual who wants to develop housing for homeless veterans via tiny houses (300-400 sqft). He said his inspiration came from watching the show, "Tiny Houses" and a documentary regarding veteran housing in Murfreesboro, TN http://www.dnj.com/story/news/2015/07/18/tiny-houses-suggested-option-homeless-veterans/30311753/

While I did not have a direct answer when I spoke with this individual as to if or where in my fair city this could occur, I did send him away with some homework.
 

Suburb Repairman

moderator in moderation
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
7,339
Points
31
This is from a memo I sent to City Council on the subject... please excuse some of the informality to the language & format as that is a unique preference I've encountered here. If you cut & paste, you'll need to clean it up a bit into more typical "official memo" language.

I can't speak to the hurricane issues since I'm not in a risk zone, but hopefully this has some practical use. I personally like the concepts of the small house trend, but view the trend toward circumventing building codes as well as motor vehicle and RVIA standards somewhat alarming.

To the memo...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tiny homes are certainly an interesting & trendy concept in urban planning. And, of course, we’ve been watching the <neighboring city> code process carefully.

The City of _____, like <neighboring city>, does not place minimum size requirements on dwelling structures. I do not anticipate this to change and am generally supportive of providing as much healthy, quality, & safe housing choice as possible. In contrast, some cities have applied minimum home sizes, minimum garage sizes and other standards.

Building Code Relationship

What this means is that someone can build a home of virtually any size provided that it meets building codes. It can be slab foundation or pier & beam. It is in building codes that “tiny homes” can find their health & safety conflicts though. Even then, those conflicts are often the result of amateur homebuilders failing to understand or perhaps circumventing codes. For example, many are built on utility trailers just to avoid building codes (though some, admittedly, do so just so they can move around much like a RV). You actually see this attitude appear in the article referenced by Councilmember _______—that Codes are unnecessary and that people will make sure their own home is safe. This, of course, is a naïve and serious flaw in logic as it presumes that a homeowner (1) knows enough about housing systems to discern safety and (2) knows enough about housing systems to discern whether a person that they’ve hired to do the work can discern safety. It is not uncommon for tiny homes to have poorly protected wiring, substandard insulation, improper plumbing, etc. Such failures can have serious negative health & safety consequences. As we’ve witnessed time and time again, homeowners (and even contractors) often vastly overestimate their expertise in building & remodeling a home. This is why building codes, building permits and building inspections exist.

As you may remember, we operate under the 2009 edition of the International Code Council family of codes. Here are some pertinent excerpts:

  • R304.1 Every dwelling unit shall have at least one habitable room that shall have not less than 120 square feet of gross floor area
  • R304.2 Other habitable rooms shall have a floor area of not less than 70 square feet (except kitchens)
  • R304.3 Habitable rooms shall not be less than 7 feet in any horizontal dimension (except kitchens)
  • R304.4 Portions of a room with a sloping ceiling measuring less than 5 feet between floor and ceiling shall not be considered as contributing to the minimum required habitable area for that room.
  • R306.1 Requires that every dwelling have a water closet, lavatory, and bathtub or shower (which could be as small as 18 sf while still meeting spacing requirements in Section 307 regarding plumbing fixture spacing)
  • R306.2 Requires that every dwelling have a kitchen area with a sink

This means that the legal limit for a tiny house on a true pier & beam or slab foundation in _____ could be as small as 138 square feet (120 sf habitable room at 7' wide + 18 sf bathroom). Even if one maintains the layout of a more traditional house, it could be as small as 260 square feet (bedroom @ 70 sf. + kitchen @ 50 sf + bathroom @ 20 sf + living room @ 120 sf). Where tiny houses often get cross with codes is the ceiling height restriction since many tiny house designs incorporate a very low-clearance loft bed.

What it Means for Affordability in _____

Building codes & standards are not the driver of affordability in _____. Instead, density and market choices to construct large homes with high end finishes is what drives affordability. In addition, buyers & renters are paying a location premium due simply to the fact that _____ is a very desirable. In Texas, inclusionary zoning, perhaps the most popular means nationwide to address affordability through development regulation, is prohibited. Within that, the only areas a city can effectively control housing costs is through density. Simply put, placing more units per acre naturally drives down the per unit land price, which can account for as much as 25% of a home price (sometimes more depending on desirability of location). Cities can also affect housing costs through diversity of housing options/configurations. As it relates to the tiny house concept, this has the greatest potential to come into play in _____ is in the form of accessory dwelling units, and pocket neighborhoods and other “innovative residential.” We are addressing both of these in the development code revisions.

Accessory Dwelling Units

Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are currently a SUP under _____’s development code. The rewrite is considering making these a “by right” use provided certain standards are met (still sorting those standards). ADUs are often called garage apartments, carriage houses, basement apartments, mother-in-law homes and backyard cottages. Legally, an ADU is part of the same property and cannot be sold separately. ADUs are generally acknowledged as one of the best possible approaches to affordable housing for a few reasons. Many people buy houses and live in them for decades, but their actual needs change over time. The way that houses are currently built doesn’t reflect those changes, especially the way households may spend decades with just 1 or 2 members. Many houses are too big for 1- or 2-person households, which is too bad, because size is probably the biggest single factor in the environmental impact of a house.

If you have a reasonably sized house, and an even more reasonably sized ADU, you’ve likely got a pretty green combination with some social benefits as well. You could have your best friend, your mother, or your grown kid, live with you. This kind of flexibility and informal support could really help as the population ages. Most people want to stay in their homes as they age, but finances and design can be problematic. An ADU could help aging people meet their needs without moving. In many localities you can get legal rental income from a permitted ADU, or, if you want, you can live in the ADU and rent out the other dwelling. That should add a lot of flexibility to finances.

In addition, the ADU model is the most effective means of providing affordability without creating concentration of poverty. Basically, it can serve to create mixed income neighborhoods, which have been shown to have economic, social, crime & mobility benefits. For example, you could easily have a circumstance where an accountant lives in the main home and rents a garage apartment to a college student, waitress or warehouse laborer.

Pocket Neighborhoods

This is where I see a possibility for small/tiny homes on individual lots or as part of a condominium regime. These are a popular way of increasing density without sacrificing “small town feel.” In fact, in some instances these can contribute to a small town feel while increasing density. Some of these can take the form of “co-housing” neighborhoods, but those are quite rare in our region. Pocket neighborhoods are clustered groups of neighboring houses (attached or unattached) gathered around shared open space. There are often community buildings as well.

We are creating a means to consider “innovative residential” in the development code revisions in part because there are so many new and different housing products beginning to appear elsewhere. Since it is very difficult to prescribe regulations for every instance, we are creating process to evaluate such proposals. You could think of it as a “PUD-lite” approach. We’re still working through this more.

Conclusion

So in summary, tiny houses are possible in _____ provided that they are on permitted foundations and comply with building codes. Tiny houses on wheels could conceivably go in a RV park, but could not otherwise be permanently occupied in someone’s yard. I don’t expect this to change. We are addressing ADUs and innovative housing like pocket neighborhoods as situations in which tiny houses would most likely be applied.
 

MacheteJames

Cyburbian
Messages
937
Points
20
They pop up every now and then here. Too bad they do not meet North Carolina State Building Code. We do not permit them in any capacity as a home. If they are to be used, they must be stamped and certified according to ANSI 119.5 standards and are treated the same as a park model R/V. I have two zoning districts where park models are permitted. We do not permit them to be used as permanent residences in any residential zone.

Basically, they are too small to meet minimum building code standards here.
I think that this is the wrong approach. You need to be looking at your codes and see how these can be accommodated in some capacity. Folks would not be looking to tiny houses as a dwelling option if there were not a desperate need for affordable housing throughout much of the country.

It's actually kind of a cool concept. Compact housing without the headache of sharing walls with other people. Get enough of them together and you can start to achieve some of the benefits of density.

Again, I implore you to think bigger and to not just be a bureaucrat. I would love to see the profession lead on this issue and not get passively dragged along by events unfolding like it tends to in so many cases. I would also expect to see a test case or two on tiny houses in the foreseeable future as individuals challenge the existing regulatory regime that makes siting them so difficult.
 

fringe

Cyburbian
Messages
622
Points
17
tiny houses

Local boosters managed to get on the agenda of a periodic comp planning review by county. From what I can tell they do not have well defined proposals.

The big university here has a class in one of their schools (Family and Consumer Sciences) where they study green building options and as a lab project construct what they are calling a tiny house. When I emailed one of the profs teaching it because I did not see the hammering and nailing as college level instruction, she swiftly replied with a strident defense of the class and then, as if to flatter me, invited me to speak to the class next fall. I replied with suggestions of three or four different talks I could put together but indicated I would have to bill for such service. I also pointed out to her that, according to photos from several local newspaper stories, their tiny house is being built on a trailer, which makes it an RV by definition.

I have not gotten a response. I actually think it is disingenuous for the school to pass off the building as a tiny house, when it is so clearly just an RV. Another interesting quirk about the school I learned in my days as a code inspector is that on that sprawling campus there is zero local code authority permitting and/or inspecting.
 

AG74683

Cyburbian
Messages
6,087
Points
26
I think that this is the wrong approach. You need to be looking at your codes and see how these can be accommodated in some capacity. Folks would not be looking to tiny houses as a dwelling option if there were not a desperate need for affordable housing throughout much of the country.

It's actually kind of a cool concept. Compact housing without the headache of sharing walls with other people. Get enough of them together and you can start to achieve some of the benefits of density.

Again, I implore you to think bigger and to not just be a bureaucrat. I would love to see the profession lead on this issue and not get passively dragged along by events unfolding like it tends to in so many cases. I would also expect to see a test case or two on tiny houses in the foreseeable future as individuals challenge the existing regulatory regime that makes siting them so difficult.
Building codes are mandated by the state. We have literally 0 control over it. I'm a planner, not a lobbyist.
 

fringe

Cyburbian
Messages
622
Points
17
tiny houses

...to my way of thinking the tiny house crowd is trying to reinvent the wheel.

We already have standards for manufactured housing. We have them for RV's. We have them (at least in our state) for modular buildings.

I see nothing new in what they seek other than a reduction of minimum building standards.

The idea posted here about PUD lite is the best I have seen.

My big concern as a building guy is that we have to be careful about what we build on the ground. If it is built well enough (don't get me started on that one) it should survive the builder and his generation.

It becomes an Existing Building. It becomes part of the "built environment", to which, as to all things physical, a process of entropy occurs. An existing building becomes the property of the community in which it squats at least in the sense of Thoreau's gloating on his visual "possession" of everything he sees in passing.

Is there not built into the tiny house "movement" a certain snobbery about property itself? There is a definite functional obsolescence in the idea of single family detached trying to be more cost/energy efficient than multi family. It looks, to my view, like one of class than of efficiency.

If this argument is about status rather than efficency, then let us admit that. I do not think we can back off from single family as a minimum standard for a dwelling. Almost all the tiny house designs I have seen would simply not work as family units, no matter how cute and cool they look.
 

JNA

Cyburbian Plus
Messages
24,835
Points
51
ARTICLE: Voices: Bigger not always better in Texas, as tiny trend takes off
http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/voices/2015/12/08/voices-tiny-houses-trend/76904730/

“People can certainly live in less than we do and for less money and not contribute to urban sprawl. But we feel this continuing need to grow out and build more.”

The go-small movement is trying to reverse a trend in home sizes that has swelled the past six decades.
The average size of a new American home in 1950 was 983 square feet. Last year, the average new home was more than 2,600 square feet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
 

fringe

Cyburbian
Messages
622
Points
17
ARTICLE: Voices: Bigger not always better in Texas, as tiny trend takes off
http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/voices/2015/12/08/voices-tiny-houses-trend/76904730/

The linked story is about an RV...do you see the wheels in the foto?

I am a big fan of Buckminister Fuller, who wrote that our industrial base was well equipped to manufacture "machines for living" just as it had for machines for moving. His thinking led indirectly to the manufactured home industry, where design limits gave what we got.

In our state the modular home approach led to state monitoring/stamping of pieces of homes, which often ended up in nightmares of on-site assembly/connection, some of which I have inspected, to my regret.

I cannot say loudly enough that we should not dwindle housing standards to a single occupant level, reminiscent of the SRO subsidized solutions of larger urban settings.

The trouble is, with our widening income disparities, that the number of those sans shelter is growing, and their need for shelter is no smaller than that of corporate CEO's.
 
Messages
8
Points
0
They pop up every now and then here. Too bad they do not meet North Carolina State Building Code. We do not permit them in any capacity as a home. If they are to be used, they must be stamped and certified according to ANSI 119.5 standards and are treated the same as a park model R/V. I have two zoning districts where park models are permitted. We do not permit them to be used as permanent residences in any residential zone.

Basically, they are too small to meet minimum building code standards here.

What does your area have in the way of affordable housing?
 

Habanero

Cyburbian
Messages
3,241
Points
27
This is from a memo I sent to City Council on the subject... please excuse some of the informality to the language & format as that is a unique preference I've encountered here. If you cut & paste, you'll need to clean it up a bit into more typical "official memo" language.

I can't speak to the hurricane issues since I'm not in a risk zone, but hopefully this has some practical use. I personally like the concepts of the small house trend, but view the trend toward circumventing building codes as well as motor vehicle and RVIA standards somewhat alarming.
...
Tiny homes, to me, scream of a new, trendy RV or mobile home that tend to be an issue. My question is that if the house is cute - is there no public perception issue? What makes this that much different than a single-wide, besides that is it smaller and popular due to HGTV? I'm honestly having a hard time grasping why one is an acceptable structure and one is not, especially when dealing with the perception issue of the public. Will citizens be just as upset if a cute, tiny home is brought in? Doubt it.

I'm also curious to see if TML has a take on these specific to Texas. I am considering an amendment to require industrialized homes to have a minimum value as compared to the surrounding properties, I would imagine the same ordinance could be applied to a tiny home.
 
Messages
8
Points
0
Thanks for the replies.

I am near a college town where gentrification is pushing in-town housing out of affordable reach for many. Couple that with a 38% poverty rate (I think it is a national title) in a town where the college president makes 900K and commands a big slow boat with an ever growing administration and an aggressive building program that makes a lot of money for somebody, and your housing situation gets a little lopsided.

Some locals have gotten all in a lather about tiny housing being the way to affordability, and the college is actually teaching a course where they build a tiny house as part of a housing science course.

Now they are badgering local planners, asking them to show a way for tiny house development. The planners are not so enthused.

I think that allowing this kind of development as "housing" would be a step backward or a segregation of housing into two tiers, and, as time rolls on, the beginning of tiny slums.

I once lived in a college town for many years; originally as a student. As such, I lived the cramped student lifestyle, first in a dorm and then in a house with five others. After graduating with a liberal arts degree and being underemployed, that student lifestyle became tiresome and unappealing, so I moved serially into tiny studio apartments of the "subdivided house" type, moving from one to another as rents rose and inexorably crowded my meager budget. Ultimately I was homeless four months, sleeping in my employer's offsite storage area, before finding what was probably the ONLY remaining studio in town I could afford.

The housing type for which I yearn is a small/tiny house in the neighborhood of 400 square feet - larger than the sort of house we regard today as tiny, but certainly still a small house by American standards, and comparable to many existing guest houses / granny flats / ADUs. (But I do not want an ADU which I can only rent, I want a freestanding parcel which I can own. )

How would that type of development - owner-occupied - be a step backward or a segregation of housing into two tiers, and consequently the beginning of a tiny slum? In my example, I was in the process of being displaced from the community; talk about segregation! Perhaps you would have preferred the ongoing displacement of low-wage workers from the community?
 
Messages
8
Points
0
The linked story is about an RV...do you see the wheels in the foto?

I am a big fan of Buckminister Fuller, who wrote that our industrial base was well equipped to manufacture "machines for living" just as it had for machines for moving. His thinking led indirectly to the manufactured home industry, where design limits gave what we got.

In our state the modular home approach led to state monitoring/stamping of pieces of homes, which often ended up in nightmares of on-site assembly/connection, some of which I have inspected, to my regret.

I cannot say loudly enough that we should not dwindle housing standards to a single occupant level,
reminiscent of the SRO subsidized solutions of larger urban settings.

The trouble is, with our widening income disparities, that the number of those sans shelter is growing, and their need for shelter is no smaller than that of corporate CEO's.

Well I just gotta ask, what do you say to people like me who WANT this type of housing? I'm a middle-aged, underemployed, college-educated, low earner. What housing type do you prescribe - okay, suggest - for me?
 
Messages
8
Points
0
...to my way of thinking the tiny house crowd is trying to reinvent the wheel.

We already have standards for manufactured housing. We have them for RV's. We have them (at least in our state) for modular buildings.

I see nothing new in what they seek other than a reduction of minimum building standards.

The idea posted here about PUD lite is the best I have seen.

My big concern as a building guy is that we have to be careful about what we build on the ground. If it is built well enough (don't get me started on that one) it should survive the builder and his generation.

It becomes an Existing Building. It becomes part of the "built environment", to which, as to all things physical, a process of entropy occurs. An existing building becomes the property of the community in which it squats at least in the sense of Thoreau's gloating on his visual "possession" of everything he sees in passing.

Is there not built into the tiny house "movement" a certain snobbery about property itself? There is a definite functional obsolescence in the idea of single family detached trying to be more cost/energy efficient than multi family. It looks, to my view, like one of class than of efficiency.

If this argument is about status rather than efficency, then let us admit that. I do not think we can back off from single family as a minimum standard for a dwelling. Almost all the tiny house designs I have seen would simply not work as family units, no matter how cute and cool they look.

Speaking only for myself, I want affordability and privacy. (Affordability uber alles!) Half my adult life I have lived in crowded houses with umpteen housemates - 9, 7, and 5 housemates, respectively, in my last three houses. (And each successive house was smaller, older, and more functionally obsolete than the one which preceded it.)

I crave having my own modest OWNED space - in the neighborhood of 400 square feet - without having to share it with roommates or housemates. My problem with renting is largely that it has been unsustainable for me, with ongoing price displacement and shrinking quality of life.

Is there a feasible solution in my future?
 
Messages
8
Points
0
That's just it. It's one thing to have a tiny house or two wedged into a wealthy neighborhood or placed on a larger homes property, but it's another to build a neighborhood of these things. In one case it's cute and well maintained by hip college students. The other becomes the only thing we can afford. Which is good to give low income families a place to live, but we really don't need a tiny ghetto. Unless you can find a way to maintain the house and the grounds I just see it becoming another version of a trailer park. Granted there are some nice trailer parks out there though.

Some thoughts to making it work.
Maybe a buffer requirement that says you can only get 1 tiny house every mile. Keeps away the clustered trailer park effect.
Require a minimum lot size. They get a normal residential lot, they just have a tiny house. Then if someone wants to build a real house it isn't an issue.
Treat it like a trailer park or condo complex. Set up specific zones or use permits and require things like a park or clubhouse for amenities. Basically you're trying to create a housing price that is higher than what most low income families will be attracted to, but lower than owning a normal house. I'm not sure if it's a good answer.

How is this not exclusionary and classist?

Relying on government as the source of property rights seldom ends well for the poor.
 
Messages
8
Points
0
This is from a memo I sent to City Council on the subject... please excuse some of the informality to the language & format as that is a unique preference I've encountered here. If you cut & paste, you'll need to clean it up a bit into more typical "official memo" language.

I can't speak to the hurricane issues since I'm not in a risk zone, but hopefully this has some practical use. I personally like the concepts of the small house trend, but view the trend toward circumventing building codes as well as motor vehicle and RVIA standards somewhat alarming.

To the memo...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tiny homes are certainly an interesting & trendy concept in urban planning. And, of course, we’ve been watching the <neighboring city> code process carefully.

The City of _____, like <neighboring city>, does not place minimum size requirements on dwelling structures. I do not anticipate this to change and am generally supportive of providing as much healthy, quality, & safe housing choice as possible. In contrast, some cities have applied minimum home sizes, minimum garage sizes and other standards.

Building Code Relationship

What this means is that someone can build a home of virtually any size provided that it meets building codes. It can be slab foundation or pier & beam. It is in building codes that “tiny homes” can find their health & safety conflicts though. Even then, those conflicts are often the result of amateur homebuilders failing to understand or perhaps circumventing codes. For example, many are built on utility trailers just to avoid building codes (though some, admittedly, do so just so they can move around much like a RV). You actually see this attitude appear in the article referenced by Councilmember _______—that Codes are unnecessary and that people will make sure their own home is safe. This, of course, is a naïve and serious flaw in logic as it presumes that a homeowner (1) knows enough about housing systems to discern safety and (2) knows enough about housing systems to discern whether a person that they’ve hired to do the work can discern safety. It is not uncommon for tiny homes to have poorly protected wiring, substandard insulation, improper plumbing, etc. Such failures can have serious negative health & safety consequences. As we’ve witnessed time and time again, homeowners (and even contractors) often vastly overestimate their expertise in building & remodeling a home. This is why building codes, building permits and building inspections exist.

As you may remember, we operate under the 2009 edition of the International Code Council family of codes. Here are some pertinent excerpts:

  • R304.1 Every dwelling unit shall have at least one habitable room that shall have not less than 120 square feet of gross floor area
  • R304.2 Other habitable rooms shall have a floor area of not less than 70 square feet (except kitchens)
  • R304.3 Habitable rooms shall not be less than 7 feet in any horizontal dimension (except kitchens)
  • R304.4 Portions of a room with a sloping ceiling measuring less than 5 feet between floor and ceiling shall not be considered as contributing to the minimum required habitable area for that room.
  • R306.1 Requires that every dwelling have a water closet, lavatory, and bathtub or shower (which could be as small as 18 sf while still meeting spacing requirements in Section 307 regarding plumbing fixture spacing)
  • R306.2 Requires that every dwelling have a kitchen area with a sink

This means that the legal limit for a tiny house on a true pier & beam or slab foundation in _____ could be as small as 138 square feet (120 sf habitable room at 7' wide + 18 sf bathroom). Even if one maintains the layout of a more traditional house, it could be as small as 260 square feet (bedroom @ 70 sf. + kitchen @ 50 sf + bathroom @ 20 sf + living room @ 120 sf). Where tiny houses often get cross with codes is the ceiling height restriction since many tiny house designs incorporate a very low-clearance loft bed.

What it Means for Affordability in _____

Building codes & standards are not the driver of affordability in _____. Instead, density and market choices to construct large homes with high end finishes is what drives affordability. In addition, buyers & renters are paying a location premium due simply to the fact that _____ is a very desirable. In Texas, inclusionary zoning, perhaps the most popular means nationwide to address affordability through development regulation, is prohibited. Within that, the only areas a city can effectively control housing costs is through density. Simply put, placing more units per acre naturally drives down the per unit land price, which can account for as much as 25% of a home price (sometimes more depending on desirability of location). Cities can also affect housing costs through diversity of housing options/configurations. As it relates to the tiny house concept, this has the greatest potential to come into play in _____ is in the form of accessory dwelling units, and pocket neighborhoods and other “innovative residential.” We are addressing both of these in the development code revisions.

Accessory Dwelling Units

Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are currently a SUP under _____’s development code. The rewrite is considering making these a “by right” use provided certain standards are met (still sorting those standards). ADUs are often called garage apartments, carriage houses, basement apartments, mother-in-law homes and backyard cottages. Legally, an ADU is part of the same property and cannot be sold separately. ADUs are generally acknowledged as one of the best possible approaches to affordable housing for a few reasons. Many people buy houses and live in them for decades, but their actual needs change over time. The way that houses are currently built doesn’t reflect those changes, especially the way households may spend decades with just 1 or 2 members. Many houses are too big for 1- or 2-person households, which is too bad, because size is probably the biggest single factor in the environmental impact of a house.

If you have a reasonably sized house, and an even more reasonably sized ADU, you’ve likely got a pretty green combination with some social benefits as well. You could have your best friend, your mother, or your grown kid, live with you. This kind of flexibility and informal support could really help as the population ages. Most people want to stay in their homes as they age, but finances and design can be problematic. An ADU could help aging people meet their needs without moving. In many localities you can get legal rental income from a permitted ADU, or, if you want, you can live in the ADU and rent out the other dwelling. That should add a lot of flexibility to finances.

In addition, the ADU model is the most effective means of providing affordability without creating concentration of poverty. Basically, it can serve to create mixed income neighborhoods, which have been shown to have economic, social, crime & mobility benefits. For example, you could easily have a circumstance where an accountant lives in the main home and rents a garage apartment to a college student, waitress or warehouse laborer.

Pocket Neighborhoods

This is where I see a possibility for small/tiny homes on individual lots or as part of a condominium regime. These are a popular way of increasing density without sacrificing “small town feel.” In fact, in some instances these can contribute to a small town feel while increasing density. Some of these can take the form of “co-housing” neighborhoods, but those are quite rare in our region. Pocket neighborhoods are clustered groups of neighboring houses (attached or unattached) gathered around shared open space. There are often community buildings as well.

We are creating a means to consider “innovative residential” in the development code revisions in part because there are so many new and different housing products beginning to appear elsewhere. Since it is very difficult to prescribe regulations for every instance, we are creating process to evaluate such proposals. You could think of it as a “PUD-lite” approach. We’re still working through this more.

Conclusion

So in summary, tiny houses are possible in _____ provided that they are on permitted foundations and comply with building codes. Tiny houses on wheels could conceivably go in a RV park, but could not otherwise be permanently occupied in someone’s yard. I don’t expect this to change. We are addressing ADUs and innovative housing like pocket neighborhoods as situations in which tiny houses would most likely be applied.

The ADU cannot be a sustainable solution to affordability precisely because it can only be rented, and not owned, by its occupant.
 

Suburb Repairman

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The ADU cannot be a sustainable solution to affordability precisely because it can only be rented, and not owned, by its occupant.
It sounds like you are talking about a fixed asset small home rather than the DIY RV/Tiny Home Movement. I also understand your interest in ownership better as it sounds like your locale has major issues with rent escalation, essentially displacing you in slow motion. You appear to view ownership as a means to stabilize and turn an unstable variable (rent) into a stable constant (fixed ownership cost). That makes sense to me.

I'm interested academically in tiny homes/DIY RVs, but from a practical standpoint there are issues. I've had the pleasure of shutting down three RV/mobile home parks (not to be confused with HUD-code Manufactured Homes) due to major issues with environmental violations (sewage running everywhere) and unsafe/substandard housing.

You need to calm down--you are acting like posters here are attacking you and playing on your "jump to conclusions mat" calling posters classist. That isn't going to win you many friends here. Planners are inherently problem solvers. Context matters to us and we provide answers based on our context. My referenced memo above was written from the framework of my community's issues. Our number one issue for affordability is lack of affordable rental housing in locations with high amenity & transportation access. My memo is written with that context in mind.

Now, to answer your question... and I'm just spit-balling an idea here so don't go nutty... I suppose you could do a condominium regime (depending on how your state's real estate laws work) to make the ADU an ownership option along with some tweaks to the ADU definition in your zoning code. You wouldn't have fee simple ownership, but you would have ownership of the unit. It is about context & relationships to surrounding buildings, particularly in an infill scenario. I think that is important if you're viewing small/tiny home as an affordability solution, as infill sites are better suited to eliminating other costs (particularly transportation costs). There aren't a whole lot of circumstances where you could plug-n-play a whole neighborhood of small units, but you can generally integrate 1-2 of them in an ADU relationship with an existing primary structure on one property with little effort. By doing that, you've placed your affordable housing option in ideal locations, and you've made the neighborhood more efficient for mass transit since you could conceivably double or triple the density of a neighborhood without significantly affecting the physical character of the neighborhood.

The next obvious alternative is to look toward the pocket neighborhood/cottage court type of property configuration (I also touched on above), which are well-suited to small dwelling units like you describe and can work as an infill project. You could pretty-easily get a 14-18 unit pocket neighborhood onto an acre without much effort... perhaps even two pocket pods of 12 each. These can be configured for fee-simple ownership, condo ownership, etc. Also, these often have shared community spaces (some just have tool sheds so that tools can be shared, while others actually have a community house you can use if you have guests, etc). It is one of my favorite forms of infill development.

I think you are seeing cities adapt to smaller parcel sizes, at least in their infill neighborhoods. I know Seattle has been doing some stuff with this, with the idea being to create ownership opportunities for very small dwellings. I think they are doing a lot of this off of alleys, but I'm not terribly familiar. I haven't looked at it closely for my jurisdiction in part because we don't have land scarcity issues at this point. We are doing a form-based code that would at least allow the type of unit you wish to own as a condominium ownership scenario. Honestly, when you start talking about exceptionally small parcels (assuming you mean a 400 s.f. small home on perhaps an 800 s.f. lot), condominium arrangements tend to work a lot better.

I understand where you are coming from, but also understand that property ownership is not a right. I also see you are in Portland, which is kind of a clusterfcuk when it comes to affordability (own or rent) and homelessness prevention.

The reality is that comprehensive-rational reform does not exist. Changes occur incrementally. You are seeking perfection. The perfect is the enemy of the good.
 

fringe

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Well I just gotta ask, what do you say to people like me who WANT this type of housing? I'm a middle-aged, underemployed, college-educated, low earner. What housing type do you prescribe - okay, suggest - for me?
The biggest problem with a category of dwelling for singles/couples is that such a limit would be impossible to enforce, and there would certainly be families living in tinies, with associated problems of overcrowding.

Most of my experience is in building inspection, a lot of which involves housing rehab and substandard housing, and I think our dwelling standards are hard won and minimum enough.

Affordability is mostly a function of value appraisal, which, as we have seen, can get "irrationally exuberant".
 

fringe

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Savannah, GA is moving with plans to house homeless in tiny, no-wheeled units as part of a PUD that has gone as far as land acquisition and a model done with more to make a dozen to start.

http://www.wjcl.com/article/tiny-house-community-to-be-built-in-savannah/942993

During my email exchange with the homeless org director she claims the units each meet residential code, but from photos posted I can see a number of violations.

I am glad to see some locality trying something different, but I do not see how this design can make it as viable housing for families, nor can I see how it will be possible to maintain single occupancy.
 

superdragtn

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We treat tiny houses in two ways:

If they're constructed elsewhere and moved in, then it falls under our definition of a manufactured home which means it has to have the HUD Manufactured Home sticker on it. Basically, it would be treated like a single wide trailer. Most manufacturers of tiny homes do not or are unable to get the HUD sticker.

If it is site built, it has to meet the requirements under the building code like any other single family home. The building code has some minimum square footage requirements, but our zoning resolution does not. So, site built means as long as it meets the building code, it can be as small as the person wants.

There has been talk of amending our codes to allow these in some form or fashion outside of the two scenarios but I am approaching it very cautiously.
 

DVD

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My problem, they're great for high rent cities like San Fran. Build a little lot with cute tiny houses and it's affordable housing. Of course I can see the downside where it becomes an under sized trailer park. If I can have a guy living in a nacho stand than something like this isn't far off:

 

Masswich

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We treat tiny houses in two ways:

If they're constructed elsewhere and moved in, then it falls under our definition of a manufactured home which means it has to have the HUD Manufactured Home sticker on it. Basically, it would be treated like a single wide trailer. Most manufacturers of tiny homes do not or are unable to get the HUD sticker.

If it is site built, it has to meet the requirements under the building code like any other single family home. The building code has some minimum square footage requirements, but our zoning resolution does not. So, site built means as long as it meets the building code, it can be as small as the person wants.

There has been talk of amending our codes to allow these in some form or fashion outside of the two scenarios but I am approaching it very cautiously.
Ditto to all of this. We hear some pushback that "its a cheap way to provide affordable housing" but my actual experience is that the folks who build tiny homes want to do so as a statement, and the rents I have heard they want are basically at market, not "affordable" to low-income residents.

I like Tiny Homes and we encourage smaller homes that are built according to code. We're looking at the code to see if its too limiting. But I think some people use the term "Tiny Home" as a weapon.
 

fringe

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Site-built tiny homes will meet area minimums a la IRC 2015. Fair warning.I have exchanged emails with a Savannah official who says their target for occupancy should fall within code once GA, (which routinely stays at least 3 yrs behind IRC releases) adopts the 2015.

My concern is that the trio of development, real estate, and finance people buy into the idea, we will see a decline in housing stock.
 

AG74683

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Ditto to all of this. We hear some pushback that "its a cheap way to provide affordable housing" but my actual experience is that the folks who build tiny homes want to do so as a statement, and the rents I have heard they want are basically at market, not "affordable" to low-income residents.

I like Tiny Homes and we encourage smaller homes that are built according to code. We're looking at the code to see if its too limiting. But I think some people use the term "Tiny Home" as a weapon.
Tiny homes are hardly affordable, at least from what I've seen around here. I went to a convention a few months back just to see what the big deal is about them, and the cheapest one was 75k. You can buy a brand new singlewide and some land for 80 or less, a used singlewide for half the price. Hell, you can get a modular home of almost double the size of a tiny home for around the same price, turn key. A local modular company quoted the girl I went to the convention with for a small modular (600 sq. ft.) for 60k ready to move in.

Tiny homes are ripe for unlicensed individuals who have no clue what they are doing to take advantage of the general public. Those who have bought into the craze are typically not folks who know much about building trades. The ones I saw at the convention were shoddy at best, dangerous at the worst. I'm not sure how insurance companies are putting policies on them (TBH I doubt they are), and you have no recourse if a building defect causes a fire, because most of the builders here are fly by night.

Coincidentally, all the homes at this convention were tagged and titled in Georgia. When the girl I was with asked the guy about permits, all she got was a story about how they are "exempt" or suggested ways around it.
 

luckless pedestrian

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Bumping this thread to ask how people define this to be different than an RV or a mobile home or manugactured home in your zoning?


we want to allow them as an ADU but we don't want mobile homes so what's the difference under zoning?
 

Dan

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There's two types of tiny houses -- those that meet state/regional building codes, and THOWs, or tiny houses on wheels. A THOW is really no different than a fifth wheel or pull-behind trailer -- it has a metal chassis built for regular roadgoing, wheels, and a trailer hitch. Here's one of the conditions for an ADU in the FBC I've been working on.

• Construction: 🚫 Must not have wheels, an integral trailer chassis, or other component parts for towing or roadgoing.

Dictionary definition for "component parts" - something that cannot be removed without substantial damage to itself or to the object to which it is attached
 

TOFB

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Tiny houses are the subject of a few TV shows - really nothing more.
 

Faust_Motel

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In my world it's either limited in its use exactly like an RV (limited number of days/year allowed to be occupied) or permitted exactly like a house or an ADU (you gotta treat that wastewater in a manner acceptable under the state rules).

No building code for single-unit housing where I work. Feel free to build a shiplap firetrap, zoning don't care.
 

Maister

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But mobile homes don't have VIN either... still struggling with this...
To further complicate matters, in some states (like MI) they have state-regulated mobile home commissions that supersede local zoning (because too many communities were using zoning to exclude 'those people'). THOW's are likely to fall under state level authority in those cases.
 

Dan

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luckless pedestrian

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in a previous town, a developer put some in for 55+ as he said off-the-record, to keep out the rif-raf; well the market for retirees in that area were people downsizing but that far down, they all wanted garages, and he was selling them for what you could get for a decent 3 bedroom house so it's still pretty dormant
 
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