Could Tiny Housing Help Michigan's Homeless?

By: 
Contributor

In recent years, the tiny house movement has gained support across the nation. However, the trendy homes are most frequently seen as a lifestyle choice for those with the money to afford more luxury-style tiny homes. With the right materials being used and the right cost-saving measures being taken, could this real estate trend create a potential solution to help Michigan's homeless?

Going Tiny And Downsizing

In recent years, living smaller has become a home and lifestyle trend that many aspire to. While many households stop at simple minimalism, others take it a step further, living in spaces as small as 300 square feet for an entire family. Some of these tiny homes are "tiny houses on wheels," similar to living in an RV year-round. RVIA estimates nationwide there are as many as 30 million RV enthusiasts, including RV renters. Currently, the trend is most popular with middle and upper-class families looking to live more simply, meaning that while the homes remain small, they're often crafted from high-end materials. However, the trend has more potential than simply a real estate fad for the wealthy.

The Benefits Of Tiny Housing

Living in tiny housing may prove challenging, but it can have significant benefits for the environment. Larger, more traditional housing takes up a significant amount of resources. For example, the average U.S. family uses more than 300 gallons of water per day at home. Living in reduced space inherently shrinks the amount of water used, along with electricity and other resources. Additionally, there are many cost-saving, energy-efficient solutions that are more practical to use in tiny homes compared to traditional homes, such as window tinting. You could save up to 40% on your utility bill by tinting your windows. For those living on a limited income, this shrinking of utility bills can have significant financial implications.

The homes, when built with certain construction methods, could also cost less to build than other forms of affordable housing. Tiny homes are often constructed using modular methods, which have been proven to be more cost-effective. A report by the Building Industry Association of Philadelphia estimates that going modular can reduce construction costs by 9% to 20%. This could make them easier to construct at low costs, therefore making them a more affordable solution for those with limited or even no income. While these tiny, green homes may seem like an excellent option for addressing the state's affordable housing issues, the tiny homes come with other costs as well.

Challenges With Building And Living Small

Living in a small home isn't always the ideal solution it's presented as - there are many issues surrounding tiny living that need addressing. For example, building codes and zoning laws still pose legal problems for tiny homeowners and builders. For most living spaces, there is a minimum square footage requirement that must be met, and not all tiny homes fulfill that requirement. Some builders construct their tiny homes despite zoning laws and building codes; these homes have little oversight and may be built with potentially subpar materials containing high levels of VOCs. According to a report by CBC Marketplace, VOC levels over 500 ppb could cause problems for people with chemical sensitivities.

Additionally, not all people are able to live comfortably in a tiny home. Living small often requires significant downsizing, and even with few possessions, the homes can be cramped and unsuitable for parents with young children. Living tiny also limits how much the residents can purchase, such as better clothing more suited to cold winters. As of August 2017, women's apparel was the number one top-selling item on the internet, but those living in tiny homes may not be able to create space for new clothing items.

Organizations Supporting Initial Efforts

With both the positives and negatives of living in tiny homes in mind, organizations have already begun projects to create new tiny homes as an affordable housing solution. The construction of tiny homes can vary in cost, meaning these organizations may still require more funding in order to accomplish their goal of providing affordable housing. If these initial tiny home communities see success, additional projects may lead to more tiny home communities in the future. It remains to be seen if these communities will be able to help create more affordable housing, but so far, results have been promising. It's possible that in the future, Michigan's homeless and low-income populations will be able to secure housing thanks to these tiny house communities.

For full story, pick up a copy of the MONTH XX issue of The Allegan County News/The Union Enterprise/The Commercial Record or subscribe to the e-edition.

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