Thursday, March 26, 2015

The American Tiny House Association

I've recently been involved in the formation of a new non-profit—the American Tiny House Association. Here's our introductory press release:

March 25, 2015 – Tiny house advocates are harnessing the exponential rise in popularity of tiny houses by forming a new nonprofit organization, the American Tiny House Association. The mission of the association is to promote the tiny house as a viable, formally acceptable dwelling option for a wide variety of people. Its goal is to support tiny house enthusiasts who are seeking creative and affordable housing as part of a more sustainable lifestyle. 

The board pulls from a broad base of experience:

President William Rockhill is a tiny house builder whose family run company, Bear Creek Carpentry, has been operating in the Adirondacks since 1991 and has over 40 years of carpentry experience. 

Vice President Robert Reed directs the Urban Sustainability Practice for Southface, an organization that works with consumers, the construction and development industry, and policymakers to forge market-based solutions for creating green jobs, clean energy solutions and sustainable communities. 

Treasurer Elizabeth Roberts is an attorney for Atlanta Code Enforcement. 

Secretary Elaine Walker is a blogger at Tiny House Community. 

Director Andrew Heben has a background in urban planning and is the author of Tent City Urbanism: From Self-Organized Camps to Tiny House Villages. Heben co-founded Opportunity Village Eugene (OVE), a non-profit organization with a mission of creating self-managed communities of low-cost tiny houses for those in need of housing.

The purposes of the association are as follows:

• to gather and provide information regarding the building of and dwelling in tiny houses

• to promote a healthy social and political environment conducive to tiny house building and dwelling

• to educate members regarding tiny house quality and safety, and

• to network and cooperate with related government agencies, educational institutions, development organizations, and private industry to address these stated purposes.

While zoning regulations and building codes have limited the formal acceptance of tiny houses to date, Walker says she anticipates regulatory changes in the coming years will allow tiny houses in urban alleys and suburban backyards, enabling tiny houses to tie into existing utilities, and tiny house dwellers to benefit from public transportation. According to Walker, “tiny houses can provide wonderful accommodations for teens, college students, and aging parents, in addition to single adults and couples who want more freedom and less debt.” 

Heben added that the tiny house has also emerged as an innovative approach for addressing our nation’s housing affordability and homelessness crises. “Half of all U.S. renters are currently facing a housing cost burden,” says Heben, “and tiny houses offer the return of a simpler, more sustainable housing option.”

The association has state chapter leaders that will work with local zoning and coding officials to understand how regulations can be modified to accommodate tiny houses.

Members of the association seek to make the world more tiny house friendly, to make it possible to build their own tiny homes and find a legal place to live. Says Reed, “The people and passion that this movement attracts, I think, represent a fundamental shift in the American Dream. People today are looking beyond their home choice as a status symbol; people in the tiny house movement want flexibility to pursue the wide array of 

Rockhill brings a builder's perspective, noting that “we all must keep safety as a primary concern not only for the occupants of a tiny house, but also for the firefighters, EMS and police who may have to respond to a call for help. My concern is for the individual builders who need someone in their corner, to look at it from their point of view.....on a budget....minimal tools.....working out in the elements......and trying to make a living while building their own house. I understand all these factors, as well as the fierce independence and striving for freedom, the desire to build it their way, on their terms.....I will work to keep things fair, to listen to all views, to try and reach a happy medium amicably.” 

Tiny house enthusiasts can join the association by going to the website.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The American Housing Affordablity Crisis

Half of all renters in the U.S. now face a "housing cost burden"—spending more than thirty-percent of their income on housing.

Unlike social security, medicare, and food stamps, housing assistance doesn't serve everyone who is eligbile. A study by the Urban Institute shows that for every 100 extremely low-income renter households (people earning thirty-percent or less of area median income), there are only 29 affordable and available rental units.

In fact, NOT A SINGLE COUNTY IN THE UNITED STATES has sufficient affordable and available housing to meet the demand of extremely low-income households.

Check it out for yourself:

Why? It's a simple equation, really.

We've created a situation where, by definition, housing is dependent on public subsidies in order to be affordable to people with little to no income—while concurrently failing to supply the funding necessary to meet the demand for these subsidies. And as long as this it the case, the product will always be millions of people either struggling to sustain a home or without a home altogether.

Here in Lane Couny, Oregon, the waiting list for Section 8 housing has been closed for most of the last two years. The Housing and Community Services Agency of Lane County is opening that list for just one week, February 27 - March 6, 2015, during which applicants can apply to be placed in a lottery for a possible 400 to 600 vouchers.  When this process was last used in 2013, approximately 2,400 applications were received.

Not only are there not enough funds to reach the amount of people in need, Congress consistently underfunds the Public Housing Operating Fund for the affordable housing stock that does exist—delaying mainenance and exacerbating deterioration.

Meanwhile, the Public Housing Capital Fund—the only source of federal funding dedicated to the rehabilitation of public housing—continues to be slashed.

The result: public housing demolition outpacing new construction and rehabilitation.

Between 1995 and 2008, more than 165,000 public housing units were lost and not replaced.

What's the solution? I see two possible paths for addressing the gap:

1) Allocate sufficient funding to provide rental assistance to all those who are eligible, and/or

2) Create simpler, low-cost housing options that are not as dependent on public subsidies.

Historically, the chronic underfunding of HUD public housing programs makes the first option seem like a bit of a pipe dream. And so—as you may have guessed by now considering the focus of this blog—I've decided to focus my efforts on the latter.

We need more accessible and sustainable affordable housing options. Emerald Village will provide one such option in Eugene, Oregon through the creation of a low-cost, self-managed tiny house community. 

You can learn more about what's in store for Emerald Village here: