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Tiny Houses Are Gaining a Footing in North American Cities

Jan Lee headshotWords by Jan Lee
Energy & Environment
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Tiny house communities have been gaining popularity in recent years, and it isn't hard to see why. The idea of being able to plunk down a house -- complete with a kitchen and basic amenities -- for less than the cost of a used car is almost irresistible.

I say almost because there's an obvious catch. You have to be able to live in a space that, in some cases, equals the square footage of a bedroom. You have to be frugal by nature, both in what you use and what you love. And it goes without saying that you have to be comfortable with yourself, and those with whom you share that miniature retreat at the back of your friend's yard.

But the tiny house industry is still booming. What initially began as a do-it-yourself construction project has morphed into a niche industry that is capable of supporting a single, independently-minded entrepreneur or the growing young family with a modest income.

Forty percent of unemployed workers were millennials in 2014. “That equates to 4.6 million unemployed millennials — 2 million long-term,” Marketwatch reports. And some 44 percent of college graduates that have managed to get jobs are employed in low-end positions with little hope of advancement. Most hold college degrees. So, places like Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas, where real estate is considered prime, are becoming favorite locations for that 500-square-foot mansion.

Research suggests that those states and cities that are experiencing the highest growth in tiny house communities are ones where either zoning and other bylaws are “tiny friendly,” or there are alternative settings in which to plant your house.

In Florida, some RV parks allow for tiny homes on an indefinite basis -- not really a surprise given Florida's reputation as a tourism destination. But most cities that have become niches for downsized homes are still trying to come to terms with the concept.

In Nelson, British Columbia, Canada, a city built at the foot of some of the province's most rugged mountains, the city bylaws had for years maintained a minimum width requirement of 15 feet for housing structures. In 2013, the city council admitted that with the increasing popularity of homes spanning as little as 10 feet in width, it would have to look at revising the bylaws. Nelson, like Vancouver, which is also wrestling with the concept of small versus million-dollar estates, has its own growing community of tiny aficionados that are working toward making tiny an accepted, sustainable concept.

With the ongoing growth of tiny house communities that can support and nurture a neighborhood in a quarter of the space of conventional communities, it's likely we'll see more of these miniature, less-conventional homes. If so, it will be interesting to see what adjunct industries spring from that growth, and their ability to meet the needs of an increasingly cost- and space-conscious consumer sector.

Image credits: 1) and 3) Tammy Strobel 2) Tomas Quinones 4) Nicolas Boullosa

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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