A tiny solution for a big problem

by Neil Sharma26 Jan 2018
Tiny houses are taking British Columbia by storm. But while they’re touted by some as a solution to the affordability crisis, these mobile houses are running into roadblocks in the form of municipal bylaws.

Tiny houses are relatively cheap to construct and can be built using an array of materials, from brand new to recycled. At roughly 350 square feet, they can be had for well under $100,000,and they sell quickly.

According to Steve Arneson, co-founder of Victoria-based The Reinvestors, parts of B.C. suffer from exorbitant housing prices and limited land space, making tiny homes all the more feasible, however, bylaws haven’t caught up with housing innovation.

“They can be built with recycled materials, but bylaws are a huge issue,” said Arneson. “A lot of places don’t allow secondary dwellings, so these houses are running into big municipality issues. It sounds like there are certain municipalities that are starting to consider passing it, but they just don’t know where to start or how to make it fair for everybody.

“Space out here is so limited on the island; we’re surrounded by water and a mountain on the north side, so we need to find some creative strategies as a province, and as the capital city of B.C., on this massive issue, which is affordable housing and what the heck people are supposed to do.”

Kenton Zerbin, a permaculturist and tiny house educator, is on a mission to make municipalities understand tiny houses are a panacea, not a problem.

“Tiny houses offer people an opportunity,” he said. “You can choose recycled materials or you can use the best building materials you can get their hands on, because you’re building so much smaller and you need less of it, so your environmental impact is smaller, but it’s efficient and cheaper.”

Tiny houses are a great way to live in a quality home without accruing debt that takes years to repay, which Zerbin says is beginning to resonate with young people and, to a lesser extent, municipalities.

“It is resonating with municipalities for affordability,” he said. “You also get a demographic of young people who don’t want the massive debt, and even older people too, because it makes a fantastic retirement home. Tiny houses have come out of nowhere and developed very quickly with a lot of interest, but rules that dictate building codes and zoning and bylaws are slow to change. They don’t know what to make of tiny homes.”

There are ways to get around building codes, like classifying the tiny house as an RV, but tiny houses could also run into additional problems pertaining to zoning. Obstacles relating to a house’s foundation, sizing and cohesiveness within a community have also conspired against them.

But Zerbin thinks that will change soon as the cost of housing continues escalating.

“I definitely think it’s a solution for the affordability crisis because it offers viability and a variation of people’s conditions,” he said. “Just this year, the international residential code provided an appendix that accommodates tiny houses. They provided extra rules, and what’s exciting about that is anyone can take this to a local municipality and ask them to approve it or accommodate a tiny home. All it will take is one municipality to rewrite bylaws.”

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Tiny houses for the millennial generation
Tiny houses, big potential?

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