Give tiny homes a little policy consideration

Tiny homes represent a sizable break from residential construction trends seen in the United States during the past few decades.

There’s no universal set of size measurements that would define a home as “tiny,” but some see the category including dwellings of up to 400 or 500 square feet. By comparison, the U.S. Census Bureau notes that the average U.S. home size recently has stood at about 2,600 square feet — about half again as much as the average residential footprint measured in the 1980s.

The tiny home movement has drawn people interested in downsized living spaces that offer efficiency. Sometimes, buyers desire a residence with mobility as well, opting for models on wheels.

“Building it on a trailer provides a lot of flexibility in terms of where they want to live, and most in the tiny house movement … love to travel anyways, so it goes well with (the lifestyles in which they’re rooted),” Great Lakes Tiny Homes owner Aaron Kipfmiller said in a recent News-Review story about obstacles facing tiny homesteaders.

Kipfmiller, whose company in mid-Michigan builds custom tiny homes on wheels, also serves in state and national leadership positions with the American Tiny House Association, which promotes the small dwellings as a viable, formally acceptable residential option.

Whether tiny homes are fixed or trailer-mounted, buyers can run afoul of land-use regulations in many U.S. locales. While there may be legitimate cases for restricting their placement in some circumstances, we’d encourage local-level policymakers to consider the advantages some tiny homesteaders see in the dwelling category and explore workable options for accommodating them.

Often, the small dwellings fall short of the minimum square footage required for a permanent dwelling. Locally, for example, Emmet County requires a footprint of at least 720 square feet for homes in the 12 townships covered by its zoning. Little Traverse Township, one of several communities within Emmet County which opted to set their own zoning rules, specifies a 1,000-square-foot minimum.

Parking a wheeled tiny home, akin in some ways to a recreational vehicle, for an extended period can pose its own set of conflicts with local codes. Time limits may be in place for how long an RV can sit occupied on a property, rather than simply being stored there.

A tiny footprint may not be an attribute of everyone’s dream home. Some might value room to stretch or store belongings. The compact residences might not visually complement every other type of housing stock situated nearby — and protection of property values is an oft-cited reason for zoning policies’ existence.

But as with many property rights matters, we see something of a balancing act when it comes to tiny home placement.

Those who opt for the petite dwellings may seek a spot of their own where they can live with a modest environmental footprint. Financial sustainability might be a drawing card for others to live in tiny hones, for which pricing is commonly reported to be in the mid-five figures. The option might appeal to young adults seeking a path to home ownership without overwhelming debt, or retirees looking for a downsized option that’s manageable on a fixed income. While tiny homes may be modest in many regards, some examples show high levels of attention to architectural detail.

It’s common practice for local officials to revisit their zoning rules every years to see if conditions warrant updates. With the growing interest in downsized domiciles during the past decade — not to mention the housing affordability puzzles facing many locales, including our corner of Northern Michigan — we’d urge these policymakers to see if viable, harmonious solutions might exist for accomodating these homes within their territory.

— Petoskey News-Review

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