Tiny Homes Provide New Ways to See the Nation and Find Affordable Housing

Over the last few years, the tiny home trend has really taken off. Around 49% of home buyers are willing to pay more for expansive ensuite master baths, but since these miniature dwellings rarely exceed 500 square feet, they often appeal to minimalists and hippie types who are’t so interested in lots of space or luxurious amenities. But these homes aren’t just for those who are looking to downsize. Not only can they function as recreational vehicles for adventurous travelers, but they could also hold the key to solving prevalent housing crises.

These quirky houses have been featured in countless television shows as an option for buyers who want to live more simply. Another advantage of these homes have is the fact that most are mobile. For buyers who don’t want to literally be tied down to their investment, this ability to take their home along for the ride is key.

It’s a model that’s attractive to camping enthusiasts, as well. Some houses can be built on towable trailers, which means they’re certified as recreational vehicles. Tiny houses are much heavier than traditional RVs — some weigh in at five tons — so they’re a bit more difficult and costly to tow. But because tiny homes are insulated and are typically designed with both design and function in mind, they’re usually a lot more comfortable than your average RV.

Even campground developments are getting in on the action. Since camping is a $15 billion dollar industry, it’s no surprise others want to be a part of the tiny house movement. Jellystone campgrounds recently announced that they’ll be adding three tiny home options to one of their Pennsylvania locations this summer. The houses will then tour throughout the northeast until the end of the camping season in November.

The Jellystone trio of tiny houses are family-friendly too, with exteriors of salmon pink, cornflower blue, and apple green. Each is a nod to the popular Hanna-Barbera characters that serve as Jellystone’s mascots, Yogi, Boo Boo, and Cindy Bear. Each home contains three beds, a loft, full bathroom, kitchen, air conditioning, and heat. It’s about as far from roughing it as one can get, but since the homes were built by Tumbleweed — a well-known company in the tiny house circuit — at least families can get a restful sleep on their camping trip.

The same can’t be said for those throughout the U.S. who are unable to afford available housing. Some states like Michigan and Oregon are currently experiencing an affordable housing crisis. Around 33% of those who purchased a house in 2014 were first-time buyers, and these individuals often have limited budgets when they’re starting out. Many of the new homes that become available on the market are priced too high for these families but are still snatched up quickly, leaving these folks with very few ownership options.

Tiny houses could provide an economical solution, but local zoning laws don’t always permit the construction of these small dwellings. Oregon is considered to be a leader in the tiny housing movement — Portland even started a program to build these residences for homeless families — but current municipal zoning codes are so strict that some people resort to building their homes illegally.

Consequently, state lawmakers are trying to push forth a bill that would make tiny house construction easier. The law would lay out new requirements for tiny homes that would ensure they’re safe and less costly to build. Considering that the state has a housing shortage of more than 24,000 units, tiny homes could provide a welcome solution.

Although the bill passed in the House of Representatives, it’s expected to get some pushback from the Senate. And the state’s building code administrator, Mark Long, opposes the bill on the grounds that it doesn’t adequately cover fire safety regulations. In addition, Long asserts that the proposed changes to these codes could possibly be viewed as enforcing “lower safety standards” for lower-income housing, which violates Oregon’s equal protection laws.

Tiny homes do provide a means of recreation, comfort, and simplification that countless Americans crave. But equal accessibility to these versatile, small dwellings is likely the key to making them more than just a passing fad.

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