In discussions online at the Small House Society Yahoo Group and Low Cost Community Housing Google Group the challenge of getting approval for tiny house building permits and community acceptance comes up often. It makes perfect sense because most communities across America have minimum house requirements that far exceed the size of a tiny house. In many of those same communities you can actually build a 120 square foot structure without a permit, except you’re not really allowed to live there. These little buildings are considered sheds.
This of course has a lot of people interested in tiny houses asking the why this is so? If someone wanted to live in a tiny house why would anyone else care? The problem is too complex to cover in any detail here but it has mostly due to other people’s misconceptions about the people that live in tiny houses or trailers. The real solution will be to show communities that tiny house owners aren’t bad neighbora and their homes don’t bring down the value of the surrounding larger homes.
One solution for this problem has popped up from a variety of different people. Since many tiny houses being built are also mobile (mounted on a trailer) why not buy an existing distressed trailer park and turn it into a tiny house community? The property is already zoned for this kind of use and much of the required infrastructure is already in place. It should be fairly easy to get permits to make improvements to such a property. For fun I’ve drawn a few pictures to show you how it might work.
First lets start with a fictitious 14 unit trailer park on an imaginary street near you. The property is distressed and priced to sell. The trailers shown are about 10′ by 40′. Click any of the images below to see a larger version.
The next step would be a bit difficult but necessary. All the people still living there would need to move to another park so you could alter the layout, landscape, and prepare the property for the new homes. If the property is truly distressed there may be very few people left living there so this may be easy to do.
To make the most of the land the long driveway down the center of the community would be replaced by a parking area near the street. This would also separate the cars from the pedestrians.
Depending on the needs of the new occupants the little houses could be grouped together if a tighter community is desired or a the tiny houses could be spread out if more privacy is preferred. The sizes of the little houses I’ve drawn here are about 8′ by 16′ (128 square feet).
Above is what it might look like if the homes were grouped together. Imagine a little pedestrian street lined with trees in the center and little backyards behind the homes. Below is what it might look like if the homes were placed around the perimeter to give everyone more privacy. The center area could be small separate yards or one big community garden.
In the proposal to the planning department the community would be described as only getting a makeover and smaller trailers. If a green spin were put on the project and the people approving the plans could see that this type of transformation would actually improve the quality of the overall community it should be easy to get the plans approved.
The community could operate financially as a separate entity, like a LLC or non-profit organization and collect rent from tenants or it could be setup more like a condominium. I imagine there are a number of different ways of setting up the ownership. The ownership split could be done during or after the renovation.
If tiny houses are too small, the same kind of community could be designed and built with slightly larger homes. The little houses pictured below would be placed on real foundations. Since the property is already zoned to allow multi-family trailer residences it should be fairly easy to talk the planning department into an upgrade to small houses on foundations. It’s still a multi-family community, just a nicer one. In fact I’d assume that most communities would welcome some creative green group proposing to clean up a distressed trailer park.
Above is the same fictitious property with little houses, lets say 300 to 600 square feet. Below is what one house might be like inside.
I drew these pictures after talking with a friend of mine in Boston who owns rental property in North Carolina. His family has always been in real estate and while his day job isn’t related to the real estate industry he’s always had some property investments.
When he saw my tiny house design blog his very business minded brain immediately saw a wonderful opportunity and he’s looking into the possibility of setting up a community like this back east. If Ryan is successful I’ll definitely blog on it here… but I wanted to post this idea in hope that it might inspire other people to consider a similar solution.
I think the best way to beat the system is to find a way to fit into existing definitions to help communities and planning departments understand the project. For example if you walk into a planning review meeting with a full head of steam and announce you want to propose a plan for a radical new kind of community they will freak out on you. If you go in and simply request to make improvements to an existing multi-family property that will be lower impact on the environment, provide low cost housing, and clean up the neighborhood they should approve your proposal and thank you for being a good samaritan.
Not all communities are ready for this but I suspect many would see that right now is the time to explore this type of low cost living. The real estate, mortgage, and construction industries are really hurting. The economy in general is really hurting. A proposal for a project like this might meet many welcome ears.
Once a few of these communities are in place and successful more people will begin to understand the benefit of living small. If the press is positive and people become more accepting of tiny houses getting changes to building codes and community restrictions should become easier in time.
What do you think?