Friday, April 11, 2014

Do tiny homes build family neighborhoods?

Over the past year there has been an increasing amount of interest on the interweb about tiny homes. Whether its weekly videos from Fair Companies, blogs postings about cramped conditions in Hong Kong, or even the City of Austin’s attempt to consider building small to build affordable.  Each of these perspectives have something of value to share and I’ll admit that even I think about downsizing from my 1,700 sqft home from time to time.

But one of the issues at hand in the local debate here in Austin, at least from my perspective is;  

Does tiny mean family friendly?

On our neighborhood listserv there was a recent post about a new apartment community being built on Burnet Rd.  While I’m generally in support of increasing density in our urban core by building up (i.e. density), I was not happy to hear that the mix of units for this development would only include efficiency, 1 br and 2 br units.

Now many of the city planners and neighborhood advocates agree that keeping neighborhoods family friendly is one of their goals. Our neighborhood plan (that was approved over ten years ago) specifically states that we want to keep the neighborhood affordable, allow for more density, make it walkable and family friendly.  But I see a disconnect on the last point when our planners and building codes are permitting un-family friendly developments.

I’m not saying that some families won’t benefit from 2 bedroom units. Our 750 sqft house only had two bedrooms when we bought it and I think that fact that it only had two bedrooms made it affordable enough for us to get our foot into our great neighborhood.

But, higher density condos and multifamily rentals don’t provide the same opportunity to grow by adding on that our small home provided. Some might argue that if designed correctly that you can knock out walls and create bigger more family friendly units in these new multifamily projects. That might be true, but at what cost and will it be affordable to do so?

Other might argue, like the folks who are part of the tiny home movement, that families don’t need all the extra space that traditional homes have. I’m not going to argue against that either, but I do want to point out that market forces are at play here, and while the tiny home movement is growing I have not found a study or report that shows it is a statistically significant portion of our housing market.

I also feel that with majority of new units being added as 1 & 2 bedroom units a shift in household demographics towards singles and couples that don’t have kids will occur. That could be an assumption, but if true it will also drive businesses to adjust and may create less family targeted businesses.

I’m descending into a rant. So, let me just say this from an advocacy point.  I support the City of Austin’s efforts to development more dense and affordable housing. I want that housing to include enough variety so that families can live on RBT lines, so that singles can put a foot hold in neighborhoods that were once not affordable to them, and so that we can build the multi-use, multi-purpose and multi-generational communities that every bleeding heart liberal, like myself, desires. And, I really hope that our planners, leaders and neighborhood advocates take this kind of holistic view when creating new policies about how Austin grows and thrives.