The Alignment of Tiny Houses, Pocket Neighborhoods, and Affordable Housing for Seniors

The month of August 2017 brought a stunning alignment of the sun and moon, creating a total eclipse across much of the United States. That event seemed to trigger my awareness of other things coming into alignment, especially as the next few days brought some tantalizing tidbits about tiny houses, pocket neighborhoods, and seniors to my attention.

On TUESDAY 8/22, I got an email from a woman telling me that her partner’s goal is to make tiny houses specifically for seniors.

On WEDNESDAY 8/23, I read an article from “Senior Housing News” saying that “it’s only a matter of time before the [micro-design] trend hits senior housing … as a cost-effective and low maintenance style of living.”

On THURSDAY 8/24, my sister’s birthday present arrived:  a long-wished-for copy of Ross Chapin’s Pocket Neighborhoods. I immediately started devouring it, underlining, adding Post-It notes, talking about it.  I was hooked, not only on the idea of houses gathered around a shared open space, but also on Chapin’s design ideas that create literal pathways to relationships.

Pocket Neighboorhods book by Ross Chapin
Pocket Neighborhoods book by Ross Chapin

On FRIDAY 8/25, I read a news article announcing that The Maine Technical Building Codes and Standards Board was holding a public hearing on adopting guidelines for tiny houses for the first time.

On TUESDAY 8/29, a “Senior Living News” article titled “Senior Housing’s Affordability Problem” hit the nail on the head:   There is a tsunami of aging boomers coming, and while there is boom in senior housing construction, many “middle market” retirees can’t afford the typical senior community’s monthly fees.  “That stark reality has put affordability at the forefront.”  The article’s proposed solution? “Delivering on community but in a lower-cost setting.”

An idea whose time has come

As I looked over the articles and posts I’ve collected over the past few months, the sheer amount of news about developments in tiny houses and communities/villages/pocket neighborhoods seems to be increasing exponentially.

Maybe the time for a village of tiny houses for seniors is now!  

Take a look at what’s happening:

5/10/2017 – ATLANTA, GEORGIA
“City of Atlanta Legalizes Tiny Houses”
The Atlanta City Council approved an amendment that eliminated the restriction requiring structures to be over 750 square feet, allowing for “accessory dwelling units.”

“Eco-friendly cottages are coming to Atlanta’s Historic Downtown East Point”

Eco Cottages of East Point
Eco Cottages of East Point – concept drawing

What Now Atlanta announced that a local Atlanta builder, Jim Chapman Jr., is turning a 7.69-acre parcel of land into a 40-house community consisting of 250 to 700 square-foot homes. Once built, it will be the first tiny home community in the metro region.

6/27/17 – IDAHO
“Idaho Becomes the First State to Adopt the IRC Tiny House Appendix V”
This is a huge step forward for tiny houses because it provides the language to make tiny houses legal, which other municipalities can adapt and tweak .

(Just a bit of background.  The lack of recognition of tiny houses in the IRC has been a major hindrance to the creation of legal tiny houses. In 2016, the International Code Council (ICC) announced that a tiny house specific appendix would be part of the 2018 International Residential Code (IRC). This appendix would allow people to receive a Certificate of Occupancy with tiny homes built to meet the provisions of the adopted code.  Idaho’s early adoption of this appendix paves the way for other states and cities.)

7/7/17 – NEW PARIS, OHIO
“Dublin couple starting a tiny village for tiny homes”
Dan and Cindy Hamilton of Modern Tiny Living announce plans to launch Ohio’s first tiny-home community.  Cedar Springs Tiny Village in New Paris, Ohio, about 100 miles west of Columbus, will include lots for 30 tiny houses on the shore of Silver Lake.

“A new cohousing community for seniors is coming to Roanoke”

SpiritServ community
SpiritServ community

A community called “SpiritServ” is planning a cohousing community for seniors, with 30 private units and a common house where residents can mingle and visitors can have a private place to stay.

7/16/17 – EUGENE, OREGON
“Tiny house at Eugene’s Emerging Emerald Village”
The first wall of the first of 22 tiny houses is erected in Emerald Village, an affordable housing project funded by SquareOne Villages.

“Cedarburg may be getting a minimalist pocket neighborhood”
At a July planning commission meeting, the mayor of Cedarburg, Kip Kinzel, introduced the possibility of a pocket neighborhood coming to Cedarburg.

7/25/17 – TED TALK
 “How Cohousing Can Make Us Happier (And Live Longer)”
Architect Grace Kim, who has designed the cohousing neighborhood where she lives, gave a TED talk on cohousing.  She described it as “an antidote to isolation [that] could save lives … an intentional neighborhood where people know each other and look after one another.”

7/26/17 – KANSAS
“Tiny Houses: A Salve for Tomorrow’s Housing Shortages?”
Two Kansas State University researchers investigating tiny house communities found that there are not only environmental benefits to downsizing, but also health benefits.  Brandon Irwin and Julia Day propose that this may be an argument for promoting the social benefits of tiny home communities.

“We think [living in tiny home villages] does a few things for one’s health, including creating a better sense of community, satisfying people’s basic needs for relationships, offering affordable housing options and encouraging physical activity through community gardens and walking to urban establishments.”—Researcher Brandon Irwin

“First tiny house community in Georgia may arrive in Clarkston”
The city of Clarkston is reviewing a tiny-house ordinance that, if approved, will allow the first tiny house community in Georgia.  Mayor Ted Terry wants to pave the way for this kind of affordable housing:  “The rents are going up, so in Clarkston we want to provide downsizing for baby boomers, starter homes for millennials, and certainly our immigrant and refugee population.”

8/5/17 – WASHINGTON D.C.
“Loneliness: A Growing Public Health Threat.”
At the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, presenter Julianne Holt-Lunstad made this stunning statement:  “Loneliness and social isolation may represent a greater public health hazard than obesity.” The gravitas of this for seniors is heightened by the statistic that “approximately 42.6 million adults over age 45 in the United States are estimated to be suffering from chronic loneliness.”  Her conclusion?

“People should be preparing for retirement socially as well as financially . . .  community planners should make sure to include shared social spaces.”—Psychology Professor Jullianne Holt-Lunstad

8/7/17 – KAUAI, HAWAII
“Can Tiny Houses Fix This Big Problem?”

480-square-foot house in Kauai
480-square-foot house built on Native Hawaiian trust land in Kauai as part of a pilot project

A pilot project of the Hawaii’s Homestead Housing Authority is looking to tiny houses as a possible way to deal with Hawaii’s housing shortage and affordable housing crisis.

“Lamar County supervisors ponder ‘new issue’ of tiny homes”
When a tiny home manufacturer, Tiny House Life Space, proposed bringing in tiny houses, the county planners set in motion a process to include tiny homes.  The Southern Mississippi Development and Planning District is in the process of writing a comprehensive plan.

“New 56 tiny home neighborhood is underway in northwest Charlotte”

Tiny House in Keyo Park West
Tiny House in Keyo Park West

Dismayed by the lack of affordable housing in Charlotte, developer Kelvin Young decided he wanted to be part of the solution.  His initial concept drawing for a customizable tiny house turned into plans for a 56-tiny home neighborhood called Keyo Park West.

8/12/17 –  BARRE, VERMONT
“Vt. Planners Mull Zoning Rewrite to Allow Tiny Houses”
A “wary but willing” planning commission in Barre, Vermont, is entertaining a proposal that would permit multiple tiny residential dwellings to be located on some lots. The idea, initially floated by Mayor Thomas Lauzon, was prompted by his interest in demolishing a delapidated apartment house and locating three tiny homes on the lot.

8/30/2017 – ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA
“Could St. Paul’s east side get a tiny house village?”

East Yard Cooperative Tiny Home Village
East Yard Cooperative Tiny Home Village

One person in St. Paul, Loren Schirber, has a vision to create a cooperative neighborhood of 52 tiny houses. His “East Yard Cooperative” would have gardens, chickens, a community center, and a dog run.

Would you live in a small house in a pocket neighborhood?

This surge of articles certainly brings a rash of good news, but it seems to me that there is something missing.  The articles cover:

(a) recognition of the need for affordable housing
(b) development of new rules that would allow for tiny houses
(c) emerging community plans to reduce isolation and loneliness

Greenwood Avenue Cottages
Greenwood Avenue Cottages, a pocket neighborhood designed by Ross Chapin

But where is the surge of articles that pulls all all three of these things together?

(a) affordable housing PLUS
(b) tiny homes (with Universal Design for aging-in-place!) PLUS
(c) a community designed for seniors

It’s like finding the last pieces of an unsolved puzzle together and, when they are in place, you wonder, “Why didn’t I see that before?”

I think it’s time to solve the puzzle.

– Marcia, host for Tiny Houses for Seniors

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