Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tiny Houses Embraced by City of Eugene, Oregon: "There’s nothing in the building code that prohibits a tiny house.”

"Micro-housing" was the topic of Monday's city council work session.

The goal—to start to set a context and common understanding of what the terms are related to micro-housing with the hope to get a sense of where council wants to go with this. This post summarizes key points and takeaways from the session.

It began with a presentation by city staff. Micro-housing was defined to include tiny houses, cluster housing (tiny house village), congregate housing (i.e. SRO's), and micro-apartments.

Photo by Benjamin Chin
"There’s nothing in the building code that prohibits a tiny house."

"The building codes seldom prohibit design elements and instead establishes minimum standards. Many tiny house designs incorporate specific elements that them themselves have code challenges—such as ladder access to a sleeping loft or the size of a bathroom. For that reason they are often made mobile by putting them on wheels to avoid being subject to building code. This probably is the cause of the misconception that the tiny house can’t meet the building code requirements."


Land Use—municipal code intended to support the livability of our community—presents a more difficult obstacle to the tiny house. Examples of regulations include:

  • Size, location and height of small houses and SDUs
  • Where small homes that are mobile or on wheels can be located
  • Standards for multiple small homes on one parcel
  • Additional regulations regarding density and lot coverage may also apply when micro-housing is being considered.

However, there are still several legal avenues to develop various forms of micro-housing within the existing land use code, as illustrated by the chart below.



Micro-housing also intersects with a number of existing city initiatives, including:

Envision Eugene Pillars:

  • Provide affordable housing for all income levels
  • Plan for climate change and energy uncertainty
  • Promote compact urban development and efficient transportation options
  • Protect, repair, and enhance neighborhood livability

Climate & Energy Action Areas:

  • Building and Energy (Objective 2.2a): Revise or expand incentives to encourage smaller homes that require less energy to operate and fewer building materials to construct.
  • Land Use and Transportation (Objective 11): Increase density around the urban core and along high-capacity transit corridors

City Council Goals:
  • Sustainable Development: A community that meets its present environmental, economic and social needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.


Emerald Village Project Overview


Following the presentation, the city council had an a very optimistic discussion of tiny houses and the village concept, with one councilor stating, "I think we could really be on the cutting edge of something very big and profound in terms of a psychological community shift in how we do things." Some more key quotes from the discussion are included below—


Councilor Greg Evans: "I’m really excited about this because this provides a tremendous opportunity for people who are living at the lower ends of our affordability spectrum... it gives them a type of freedom and privacy that before has not been available in terms of dwelling units… what this brings up for me is a way towards homeownership that I could see as being more of a long-term solution than what is suggested as rental units…. If people have investment in the property, they’re more likely to keep that property up, to self-manage and self-govern…"


Councilor Alan Zelenka: "When I proposed this work session I wasn’t really thinking of it necessarily as only a low-income type program... There is a multitude of types, reasons, and ownership structures… and different variations of it all over the world.. but it was inspired by Opportunity Village and it does provide the option of housing that is much more affordable than the traditional single-family house."

Question around what’s the definition of house? 

Staff response: the village concept (with shared common facilities) is similar to an SRO. But definition of SRO says at least 9 bedrooms within a building… Would have to change the definition of an SRO to allow them to not be within the same building ("to replicate what OVE has done you would have to change that definition")..


Councilor Chris Pryor: "This is a topic that has really been of interest to me for awhile now… One of the real ‘ahha’ moments for me, was to realize that many of the issues that I though were obstacles actually are not. We are much closer to being able to have tiny housing than I had originally thought. And I approach tiny housing not for any one purpose but for a multitude of purposes—it can meet many different needs—whether you're building one in your backyard or your building an actual subdivision or cluster of them."

"Opportunity Village is one of the steps in getting to an Emerald Village—which would be tiny housing because it would have kitchen and bathroom facilities—and would not only have the opportunity for rental but also for homeownership. We want to move from shelter to rental to ownership—some of those leaps are enormous and a lot of people can’t get over those. But to have a tiny house option, which you could finance if you could get the price down… its within the realm of a car purchase. It provides the opportunity for people who could never save for a home, to save for a home."

"I could see these in developments like Emerald Village, which I think is a tremendous idea—the next growth opportunity for this kind of idea. But also as things that could be built in people’s backyards as a way to achieve density without creating destruction of neighborhood livability. I’ve been very sensitive to the fact that sometimes the only opportunity people see for creating density in their neighborhoods is building apartment buildings, and I wouldn’t want that in my backyard either… But if you could have a tiny house option to create density in backyards, now we’re starting to talk about ways to create additional capacity without destroying neighborhood livability. And I know that it’s already occurring. So its not an idea that has come, it’s an idea that has come and gone, and I want to make sure it can be built legally, durably, and appropriately."


Councilor Mike Clark: "The single best way for a city to close its income and wealth gap is through homeownership. If we are going to participate in anything that encourages this trend, that we do everything we can do everything we can to encourage that they be owned rather than rented." 


Mayor Kitty Piercy: "The question is about what you get for your dollars. If you have a certain amount of dollars to build housing, what's the best way to get the best number of units for the people who need it” —brings up tension between small, separate units or attached, apartment like units—which is more cost-effective?

"The other issue we have on affordable housing… CDBG is very tight about what they will fund. The rules are very strict on what kind of housing they will allow you to spend their dollars on."

Manufactured housing issue—"People feel vulnerable when they don’t own the property that their housing is on, so there may be something where there is public ownership of land, that protects the rights of people so they can have some type of owned units on that land. That gets away from that fear of the owner making a decision that would threaten your property"

"Ask for how you can get to what you want, as opposed to can I do it. You’ll find in terms of code or anything else, if you have a notion about what it is you’re trying to get to, to ask that question gets a different application of law and code than "can I do it.”


Councilor Greg Evans: "I was thinking about modeling or piloting a public/private partnership option with a financial institution… probably this would be more up the alley of a credit union than a traditional bank… this could be one of those new cutting edge products that would be able to be the best of both worlds for a lot of people. Because if we can begin to get people into tiny housing for somewhere between $15k and $25k, give them a chance to create and build equity, and then eventually at some point… they have already modeled a way to go forward with a bigger home… an opportunity to repair some credit issues and some other things… and be able to be an education tool in terms of money management and homeownership."

"There are a lot of things that we could get out of this as demonstrable public benefit, and helping people to become much more self-sufficient in a real concrete way. Instead of looking at this as a situation where people are saying we need more affordable housing, and the mindset has always been build apartment buildings and to create rental situations that we’ve seen since the 1930s that hasn’t worked…I think we could really be on the cutting edge of something very big and profound in terms of a psychological community shift in how we do things."


Mayor Kitty Piercy: "Emerald Village—they’re struggling with the financial aspect of this, and they’re essentially trying to do a lot of what you’re talking about. If there’s some way we can figure out how we can partner with that, that seems like the logical direction to go."


Related Post: Emerald Village Tiny House Prototype

6 comments:

  1. As a Maryland Roofing Contractor this post is really informative. As I know tiny house are in trend but lot of people don't know the concept of the tiny houses. Continue the great work.

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  2. If I have a half acre with a home can my son build a tiny home on my property

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  3. It's true that this post summarizes key points and takeaways from the session. Very informative post thanks for sharing.
    dmv construction :)

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  4. Mobile homes can be considered as tiny houses and will fit most people's budgets. Repairs usually consist of electrical, plumbing, paint jobs, roof, and even skirting and window replacements. Depending on the extent of needed repairs, these are usually minimal if you do it yourself. Other professionals might be called in when it comes to plumbing, AVAC and electrical matters. For more information on this subject, see this resource link: http://modularhomeblog.com/diy/mobile-home-window-replacement.html

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