Tiny-homes are often thought of as a solution for the homeless; as a low-cost way of quickly providing shelter to people who would otherwise be on the street, next to a creek or sleeping in a car. That’s a great idea and something that should be done, but why not consider tiny homes for people in all living conditions, regardless of income or age or ability?
Fits with the Neighborhood
Building smaller means more money can be invested in high-quality fixtures and materials, making for a more comfortable environment and for a home that saves money over the long run. This is the type of approach championed by a variety of innovative developers such as Panoramic Interests with their microunit high-rises and PassivDom with its 3D-printed, tiny home/accessory dwelling unit.
Whether 3D-printed or traditional wood construction, tiny homes have the advantage over mid-rise apartments in that they do not obstruct existing views. Further, if there are enough units, then it is possible to add high-quality, common features (e.g. community gardens, play areas, meeting rooms, etc.) that benefit the larger community. When mixed with adjacent commercial development, it is possible to share common parking lots (e.g. load balancing the parking lot demand), increasing utilization of a large public space, while minimizing the land area dedicated to parking.
A Better Environment
A tiny home results in a lower environmental impact, compared to traditional single-family homes. For instance, PassivDom’s CEO claims that it only requires 860 Watts to heat their 400 square foot domicile, even with an outside temperature of -20 degrees C. Because of the efficiency, the combination of integrated batteries and solar panels means this highly efficient dwelling is self-powered, eliminating a grid connection.
The inherent density of a tiny home community makes it easier to share fixed costs associated with public transit stops, micro transit or car-sharing options than lower density single family units, giving alternatives to car-ownership (which, averages $8,849 per year, according to AAA). The community itself would be car-free and focus on providing a good walking and personal mobility experience. In turn, this benefits the surrounding single-family neighborhood, by making services feasible that wouldn’t otherwise be.
As an example, the spreadsheet below demonstrates the financial viability of a tiny-home community of between 360 to 480 households placed on 6-acres of Campbell Union High School District District Office land, which is now slated for 40 to 42 traditional single-family homes with between 20 to 24 ADUs.
The above spreadsheet assumes a Tiny Home community instead of traditional single-family homes, which would result in a recurring revenue stream of approximately $1.7+ million to CUHSD, and would be incremental to CUHSD’s estimate of $1 to $1.5M from commercial developments on the rest of the site (the remaining 6-acres on this 12-acre parcel). Granted, CUHSD would still need space for their offices, but that could be potentially integrated above the commercial developments or could be spread out among its other properties.
The unsubsidized rent/house payment in the above scenario is $1,153 and that assumes that approximately only 1/4 of the land is occupied by housing (this is with a 150 square foot microhouse, which is priced at about $65k installed, although $90k was used in the spreadsheet). Using the PassivDom figure of $127,000, reducing the number of units to 60 per acre, the unsubsidized monthly rent would be $1,463.08 (which would also yield a gross revenue of $1.7+M for CUHSD).
Bottom Line – High-Quality Housing in Small Spaces Worth a Closer Look
The bottom-line is that a tiny-home community offers the potential for low-cost, high-quality housing; particularly, if the housing is placed on underutilized public lands. The exploration of Tiny Home communities shouldn’t be limited to large land masses, such as the above example, and should include lots that would traditionally be zoned for single family. Examples of how micro tiny house communities might help seniors stay in their neighborhoods and create alternatives to monster housing are provided in this response to one of the questions sparked by the WNAC-produced, Teachers Village & More Forum.
The idea of tiny home communities may seem radical in a built-environment centered around the automobile. But, maybe it is time to go back to the future and look at how we can integrate tiny homes into the fabric of our suburban-oriented, city.