Tiny Houses: Yes or No?

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve discussed various types of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and their uses. This week, it’s time to delve into a specific type of ADU: tiny houses. While not all tiny homes are ADUs, various tiny homes can be a good option for older adults seeking to downsize into an affordable and vibrant third chapter of life.

Tiny houses have been trending for the past eight or nine years, receiving a particular boost from a variety of tiny house series on such networks as HGTV and DIY. Originally marketed to millennials, the early offerings were limited: basically a 100-400 square-foot home on wheels that could be parked off the grid (with septic and water tanks) and allow budget-level travel and independence. However, a 2015 survey by The Tiny Life found that 30 percent of tiny home residents were between 51 and 70 years old, and a new marketing emphasis was born.

‘On the Road Again’: Tiny Houses for Travel

The original tiny home design — two levels that include a loft bedroom, small bathroom, dining area and a convertible sitting and storage area — still works for baby boomers who want to travel. These tiny homes are constructed on wheels, allowing them to be hooked to a vehicle for travel. They are often considered impermanent structures or travel trailers, and usually not requiring the payment of property taxes. (Check local zoning laws to determine what is allowed in specific areas.) Customizable, many wheeled tiny houses have fold-up decks or porches, increasing the size of livable space; and they can be legally parked in such places as RV parks and some nature areas.

‘My Town’: Tiny Houses for Staying Put

Many tiny homes fit the “Granny Pod” or “Carriage House” model described in recent blogs. There are tiny houses being specifically designed with senior citizens in mind. Often — but not always — slightly larger (300 to 600 square feet), these tiny homes can include features specifically for older adults and/or people with physical disabilities: single-story, wheelchair accessible doorways and spaces (including the kitchen and bath), elevated toilets, reinforced walls to allow the installation of grab bars, and other modifications. Some tiny homes can be outfitted for people with more advanced medical needs to resemble portable hospital rooms, with special medical systems, first aid supplies, safety railings, and medical equipment installed.

‘Building Community”: Tiny House Communities

A portion of the current tiny house boom is centered around “Cottage Communities” — tiny, customizable houses grouped together in a community, complete with active adult attractions like pools, sports courts, fitness facilities, dog parks and common green spaces. In such communities, the tiny houses are built on semi-permanent foundations. Utilities, sewer, TV service, and internet service are purchased in bulk for all community members. Residents pay one lump sum monthly for the services.

An alternative to larger 55-plus or other active senior communities, cottage communities create small neighborhoods of often multigenerational people living close enough that making connections with neighbors is easy. They allow the homeowners to live in their own independent homes, but still have access to shared common services and amenities.

Tiny Houses as Strategy

OK, they are cute and novel, but tiny houses also can be a critical part of two strategies, one personal and one public policy:

  • Independent IncomeBuilding a tiny house on “excess” space of your house lot can be a doable way of adding rental income to third chapter living plans. Airbnb hosting is a business we can do!
  • Affordable Housing — As demand grows and building costs soar, municipalities can include tiny houses as one more desperately needed tool that adds to the inventory of available homes. Construction can be quick, especially with prefab models, and the product can be within the reach of people who do not qualify for government subsidy programs but are unable to successfully compete in the open marketplace. Some communities have used them as a partial response in homelessness initiatives. Figuring out how to use tiny homes in a community’s housing strategy sounds like a win-win move to me!

Third Chapter Living celebrates, challenges, informs and promotes conversations about housing issues affecting the Baby Boomer Generation. Check out our website to learn more about our work. Our Facebook Group is a resource center with tips and recommendations on navigating those issues. Share experiences with others who are looking for Housing Downsizing Tools that allow them to successfully age-in-place.

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