‘Tiny house’ trend could mean big things for housing market
Updated 4:57 pm, Wednesday, May 16, 2018
To get a better understanding of the growing “tiny house” movement, watching the popular HGTV show isn’t good enough.
While the program covers the rising interest in homeowners nationally looking to drastically downsize, builders like Doug Werner of Bridgeport-based Tiny House Co. are emphasizing the social impact the growing market could have on the area.
“This is something that’s a social solution, and that is the key, because you can utilize the concept in urban environments to make it work, and that’s what it’s all about,” Werner said.
It’s what the Trumbull resident and his partners have been seeking support for from local and state officials as he spreads the idea of using tiny homes to solve the plethora of housing issues facing the city and state. In addition to Bridgeport, Danbury, Norwalk, Stamford and even Greenwich have each dealt with affordable housing shortages.
The American Tiny House Association has been promoting the concept nationally, with the group having yet to identify an individual to lead its advocacy efforts in Connecticut.
Tiny House Co. stands to fall into that role indirectly as Werner and partner Rashell Davis continue to seek support and seek funding from the city and state.
U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-5, recently took a tour of the company’s facility to express his support for the company and its potential impact on all of southwestern Connecticut.
“This looks like a really good way to solve a bunch of problems that we have here in Bridgeport,” Himes said. “One is empty land. Two is the absence of affordable housing, and looking at these models, you see it’s not just about housing, it’s about building communities.”
Flexible and affordable
Unlike traditional homes, tiny houses offer builders added zoning flexibility.
With houses that can be as small as 500 square feet, units can be built at a fraction of traditional building costs. The homes can also be built and moved virtually anywhere, because they are considered non-permanent structures.
Bridgeport, for example, has more than 300 non-conforming lots that are limited for development purposes due to zoning restrictions. Tiny homes, taking up a smaller amount of space, can fill those often-blighted sites within any city or town with a much-needed housing unit.
“We can clean the city up,” Werner said.
A primary focus for Tiny House has been to provide housing to underserved communities including the homeless, veterans and seniors.
“What we are looking to do is change the face of the affordable housing market,” Werner said, stating that he wants to offer a modern option to address the housing deficit rather than large public housing projects.
Rather than having troves of people on a waiting list for Section 8 housing placement, which can take years, tiny house builders offer a potentially cost-effective option that could limit the need for public housing and develop pocket communities for different demographics.
“We want to create these communities of tiny homes,” Werner added.
Bridgeport stands to pave the way for a regional interest in using tiny houses as a modern option to housing shortages in other parts of Fairfield County.
“Affordability is a problem everywhere,” Himes said. “Greenwich, Connecticut, has a problem with affordability. Young police officers and firefighters can’t live in the community they serve.”
Earlier this month, a tiny house building workshop in Brockton, Mass., drew several Connecticut enthusiasts, with the Greenwich builder Craft & Sprout Tiny Home Co. supplying a home for attendees to view and having exhibited at the Westport Maker Faire this spring. Founded by Tori and Ken Pond, Craft & Sprout designs and builds small structures both as accessory outbuildings like yoga studios, “she sheds” and office studios, as well as for permanent living.
“The movement is moving from west to east and it’s just a matter of time until there are many people pushing for the legalization to live tiny,” stated Tori Pond in an email response to a Hearst Connecticut Media query. “Within the tiny home community, there is great unity and forward progress.”
But there are many obstacles. “Planning and zoning would allow anything what you see on the tiny homes website,” Greenwich Realtor Mark Pruner at Berkshire Hathaway N.E. Properties said. “But it’s very unlikely you would see that here because land in Greenwich is very expensive. Few people want to put a tiny home on very expensive land.”
The same could be said in Stamford, according to Ralph Blessing, the city’s land use bureau chief. He also noted the city’s health code has certain minimum standards regarding square footage per person.
In certain parts of Stamford, for instance, the required lot size is 10,000 square feet per unit.
“Zoning regulates how many units you can have per lot, not necessarily how big and small units can be,” Blessing said. “Just because your house is ‘tiny’ doesn’t mean you can build more of them per lot.”
Only two homes in Norwalk are listed with less than 400 square feet of living space, on James Street and Rowayton Avenue and both dated structures rather than built to the modern specifications of tiny homes. The city’s head of zoning and planning Steve Kleppin indicated he knew of no plans in the works for a tiny house in Norwalk.
There are currently no proposals or discussions in Danbury that would result in tiny home development in the city.
Includes reporting by Alexander Soule, Macaela Bennett, and Paul Schott, and Chris Bosak.