Tiny Houses, a Festival and the Homeless

Tiny houses or a tiny house community may be coming to your area sooner than you think.


If you’re not familiar with tiny houses, RTA recently published a blog post outlining what they are and the “8 Challenges of the Tiny House”. Interest has continued to grow so it’s time for another update on this market segment.

Gauging Interest in Tiny Houses
Events for tiny houses give us a sense of public interest. If no one attends, there’s little to no interest. The 2016 Georgia Tiny House Festival is next week and it seems there’s a great deal of interest.


As of today, about ten days from the event, about 2,000 are going and another 4,700 have expressed interest. (See you there!) The festival will be held on a farm in a rural area of Georgia that’s not particularly close to any city – it’s about an hour drive from downtown Atlanta. So, an attendance in the thousands shows significant public interest.

Tiny Houses in Existing Communities
Tiny houses bring their own issues. Chief among those issues is the potential of tiny houses to increase housing density. A tiny house is a scaled-down house so it still has the challenges of owning a home, even if those challenges are scaled down too.

For example, with increased housing density comes the challenge of increased traffic. Real estate within walking distance of public transit comes at a premium so it may be difficult to justify the cost of land for a tiny house community close to public transportation. That may push tiny house communities to less dense areas (the suburbs) where land is cheaper.

If tiny house communities are not built within walking distance of public transit (rail or bus lines), we should expect at least one car per tiny house. In effect, a tiny house community could mean a significantly higher number of cars per acre than the surrounding residential properties so we should take care when planning to integrate tiny house communities into our existing neighborhoods.

Existing communities should pay close attention to how their governments respond to pressure to integrate tiny houses and tiny house communities into existing neighborhoods. There will likely need to be changes to the local zoning ordinance to allow tiny houses and tiny house communities. That should take place through a public process so community leaders should be prepared to address the challenges of increased density during the public process – rather than fighting to repeal something they don’t like after the fact.

Transitional Tiny House Communities
As the tiny house movement continues to gain attention, it seems to have two areas of focus. One in which people buy or build a tiny house to enjoy for themselves. The other is the potential to use tiny houses to address homeless populations.

Over the last year, there’s been significant media coverage of development plans for tiny house communities across the United States. Some of recent coverage indicates a trend toward using tiny houses as transitional housing for homeless people. Transitional housing is temporary housing intended to help people transition into long-term housing as they get their lives in order.

This month, there’s a story out of Savannah, Georgia about a tiny house community of 60 houses being developed on three acres by the Chatham Savannah Authority for the Homeless. In mid-2015, Cindy Murphy Kelly, Executive Director of the authority, proposed a “housing-first approach” to serve the homeless.

The three-acre site in the recent article is the third site the authority has tried to develop. The first two were “ruled out after neighbors complained”. Existing neighborhoods should be watching this issue to understand the impact of allowing tiny houses on existing lots or the development of a tiny house community in the neighborhood.

In Conclusion
In less than a decade, we’ve seen public interest creeping away from the isolation (and competition) of “McMansions” to the social interaction provided by more communal and simple living in tiny houses. Those who pay attention to zoning and real estate matters have been expecting this evolution for a long, long time.

After all, did it really make sense to adopt zoning ordinances that ensure block after block of the same lot size and type of development? The tiny house movement would seem to indicate that one size does not fit all.

As always, if you’ve got a comment or question, please share it below. Thanks!

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Image by Matt Harriger used under creative commons license.

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