By Jesse McCarl
Micro-living, or, the tiny house movement, has been sweeping the nation. Homeowners trying to leave a minimal carbon footprint have build and purchased small houses designed to meet all their basic needs without any of the excess. In the midst of the fashionable trend, another practical purpose in the movement has revealed itself. Is it possible that these tiny homes could be the key to eradicating homelessness?
Tiny house villages are popping up across the country. These villages aren’t just a collection of people who have drank the micro-living kool-aid; these are assemblies of people who are in tiny houses to help give them the boost they need to get back on their feet.
Homeless communities are assembling in tiny house villages share in common both goals and kitchen spaces. To understand this new trend, it’s important to look back at the nationwide movements that led to this.
The first idea that lent itself to the Tiny House Village concept is the Tent City idea that began all the way back in the Great Depression. Groups of homeless would gather with their tents and sleeping bags in unused city lots, by rivers, or wherever else they could safely gather for an extended period of time. This movement picked up again after the housing crash in 2007, and was simulated for the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The latter influence is the Tiny House movement. 2014 saw record awareness of the micro-living concept, with everything from an award-winning documentary to breakout blogs and books. The homes are usually less than 500 square feet, and developed primarily as a counter-culture concept to avoid ridiculous real estate costs and ecological excesses.
The combination of these two ideas allowed for homeless groups to gather for safety and community in numbers, while still giving individual residents the privacy of their own space to sleep and spiritually and mentally center.
Tiny houses are quickly becoming the only option for lower-class Americans who don’t want to sleep under a bridge every night. The idea of single room occupancy housing, similar to a boarding house – has all but died off because construction on new homes exists solely for the middle class expectations. Most of the country would turn their noses at the idea of shared kitchens or bathrooms, so such housing simply isn’t built anymore.
Other cheap-but-permanent housing options are also becoming unaffordable (or simply impractical) due to federal regulations on building structures. Tiny houses however, since they are not founded into the ground, exempt themselves from most of the government regulations.
How They Operate
Sometimes a charitable company or a non-profit will found and monitor tiny house villages, but it’s becoming more common than not for the communities to be completely self-governed by the homeless residents themselves. This precedent was set by successful communities like Dignity Village, just outside of Portland, OR. This self-governed operation keeps tiny house villages from turning into Hoovervilles.
The villages all have certain expectations for the residents and standards for the community. There is usually a small rent that has to be paid for a spot on the lot, usually around $25 a month. The residents often have to be on lists for permanent housing and government aid, to show proof that they’re trying to find more fiscally responsible solutions to their living situations. They’re usually required to be actively working, not just looking for work. Whether it’s construction or a part-time gig, they have to have some sort of income while they look for whatever is next.
There are many other regulations that vary from village to village. The idea behind each stipulation is that it will create a revolving door atmosphere in the community, where there is a proven track record of people finding success through the stability of the tiny house neighborhoods.
Some of these micro living villages look like scrap yards. They are filled with shacks, all thrown together to accommodate the number of residences. These serve all the functions of giving individuals privacy and space, while keeping costs and regulations low to be manageable for whatever circumstances.
Other villages – with a few more regulations – look like a Desperate Housewife’s dream come true. The tiny houses are evenly spaced, with micro-front porches and small, green lawns. They just happen to be on along the fence of an industrial factory or in an area prone to flooding.
Do They Work?
Andrew Heben is the founder of the blog, Tent City Urbanism, and authored a book by the same name. The content is all about micro living in big metros. Heben has been studying the trend for years, and says that these villages are not just a passing trend. “They’re an early example of something that’s coming,” as environmental and economic concerns are forcing Americans to reevaluate their cost of living. “People see that a lot of us will be living like this in the future.”
The micro living movement has been growing. And the whole time, advocates for the concept have been saying the lifestyle will go from fashionable to commonplace – and even necessary. With each passing month, the idea has proven more and more accurate.
In this light, tiny houses are not just a way to alleviate homelessness – they are a way to prevent homelessness.
So are tiny houses actually effective in getting struggling Americans back on their feet? Success stories at the existing villages have proven that the reduced fear and stress that comes with homelessness will indeed lead to better chances of finding permanent employment and eventually housing.
Even just having an actual physical address to print on job applications can make a world of different in the career search.
These tiny house villages provide a home base for people that wouldn’t otherwise have one. They serve as a reset button for people who have stumbled upon hard times.
The success rates are obviously not 100% for these communities. The natures of the villages attracts a lot of the handicaps that are unfortunately associated with homelessness. There is a high population of individuals with mental illness in these villages, as well as other things that hold people back from success in different fields. This is not a problem so much with the tiny house movement, but with the homelessness crisis in general.
There is also the issue that many metros with the biggest homeless populations simply lack the ability to host a tiny house village. When the cost of land is too high, the low cost of housing doesn’t make much of a difference. Areas like New York and Silicon Valley simply don’t lend themselves to this modern tent community.
There are many big cities, however, with tiny house villages just outside the city borders. Los Angeles may not have many villages, but surrounding areas like Ventura and Santa Clarita have a strong presence. If you’re interested in a map of all the recorded tiny house villages, click here.
The Big Picture
2014 was a great year for tiny homes and the micro living movement. Luckily, this doesn’t appear to be a trend that’s going away with the calendar year. It’s a growing movement that is gaining momentum as more and more practical implications come to light. The idea was popularized for its ecological and economic implications, but now it will clearly play a pivotal role in a global issue that plays a role in all aspects of the human race.
More and more people believe the tiny house movement is the future. This new facet of the revolution could be its most significant contribution yet. The purpose of real estate is the same now as it ever was; real estate provides shelter, security, and a sense of accomplishment. The appearance of real estate, however, is evolving in new and exciting ways to include everyone for the betterment of our ultimate home – this planet and each other.
To Read More About the Tiny House Movement:
- The Benefits of Downsizing [Infographic] by HouseHunt
- TINY: A Story About Living Small – A Review by HouseHunt
- Tent City Urbanism by Andrew Heben
- Home Petite Home by Buzzfeed
- Tiny Houses with Big Ambitions by TIME