Clearing the Path for Tiny Houses

Clocking in at less than 500 square feet, tiny houses are in greater and greater demand. They've been touted as a means to address affordability, inequality, homelessness, and environmental concerns. But regulatory issues are holding them back.
July 14, 2016, 8am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Many tiny houses are prefab units.
Jon Callas

As the median size of new single-family homes continues to rise, there's been movement on the other end of the spectrum. A diverse segment of prospective residents (including young people, seniors, and low-income people) are interested in standalone dwellings of under 500 square feet. The problem, as Rebecca Beitsch writes, is that tiny houses are often illegal or over-regulated. 

Certain areas affected by the affordability crisis have begun to change tack. "Cities such as Washington, D.C., and Fresno, California, have eased zoning and building rules to allow them, and in May California's housing department issued guidance to help builders and code enforcers know which standards they need to meet." 

But the fact remains: tiny houses often fly in the face of existing code. "The difficulty has been where to place them. Those built on foundations must meet local building and zoning regulations. But many tiny houses are built off-site, sometimes without knowing where they will ultimately rest."

Note that in this context, tiny houses aren't accessory dwellings. They stand alone. "As of now, few cities allow stand-alone tiny houses. Most communities have minimum square footage requirements for single-family homes mandating that smaller dwellings be an 'accessory' to a larger, traditional house."

The good news is that while larger cities are still resisting the phenomenon (perhaps inadvertently), some small towns have made it easier to live in tiny houses. 

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Published on Tuesday, July 5, 2016 in Pew Charitable Trusts
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