By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
No question about it. Affordable housing is a hot button issue in the U.S. right now. And lots of people are looking for creative solutions to the problem.
In recent years, the Tiny House movement has gained quite a bit of attention. Once prominently featured on HGTV, some of the earliest versions of tiny homes were mobile and towable. Slightly larger versions looked more like back yard sheds or gussied up cargo cars from the railroad depot.
Many of the homes are manufactured in controlled indoor factories, sometimes with more luxurious finishes than the standard boxy, rectangular modular or mobile home.
Some enterprising entrepreneurs do custom build tiny homes using more traditional “stick built” methods.
As previously reported a few months ago here on IAC, after the initial novelty of the tiny house craze wore off, the fad has lost popularity since 2016. Few people live in their tiny house full-time, and those that do, don’t stay with the lifestyle for the long term.
It seems that most people who buy into the concept of a tiny house place their miniature structure on a piece of land they or a family member already owns. That’s because it can be difficult to purchase a vacant parcel of land that is zoned for smaller homes.
A tiny house owner might use the structure as a cozy weekend fishing or hunting getaway, a detached hobby room located close to home, a temporary home for a college student or young adult children, or perhaps as guest house located in their back yard.
As a full-time residence, however, living in a tiny house can seem a lot like living in an RV, albeit a little fancier.
But, apparently, some enthusiastic young real estate developers think the Tiny House trend is here to stay. So they are planning to build an entire community of tiny homes — up to 90 of them — on one-tenth acre lots, in Wichita, Kansas.
And, get this: the MicroMansion community will be burdened by restrictive covenants and governed by a homeowners association (HOA).
What is a MicroMansion?
According to developers Abby Nelson and Brady Sherman, the MicroMansion design concept is one that embraces a minimalist lifestyle in an energy-efficient, stylish, and affordable home.
Their five design plans, ranging from 408 – 575 square feet, feature full-sized kitchen and laundry appliances, and 4-foot wide walk in showers.
Browsing through each design on the company website, MicroMansions, my impression was that they look kind of like detached urban apartments.
And, for tiny homes, they’re a bit on the pricey side, at $75,000 – $100,000 apiece. The conservative price range per square foot would be $174 – $184, depending upon floor plan and upgrades.
How does that compare to existing homes? According to Zillow, the median list sale price in Wichita is $174,900, or around $118 per square foot.
Business has big plans for ‘tiny homes’
BY DAVID DINELL email@example.com Jun 27, 2018
Abby Nelson loves the trend of compact houses, commonly referred to as “tiny homes.”
With that in mind, Nelson and her business partner, Brady Sherman, both Derby residents, are funneling that energy into forming plans for a tiny home community in southeast Wichita.
They’ve been working on the project for the past couple of years, and now the work is coming to fruition with a business venture called MicroMansions.
The development, called Home Base, is set to be in a 15-acre parcel about one-fourth of a mile south of Harry on South 143rd Street East. The parcel is already zoned for single-family homes, so that is not an issue.
“We’re really excited about it,” Nelson said. “We’re trying to push forward as much as we can.”
She believes the development can get underway sometime next year.
“There are a lot of steps to go through,” she said.
Nelson has designed five different models for residents to select. They will be built by Krause Construction and sell for $75,000 to $100,000 each, including the 1/10 of an acre.
The question is, will buyers bite in a market that’s already relatively affordable? After all, with homes of 2,300 – 2,600 square feet priced between $120,000 – $125,000, or somewhere in the neighborhood of $48-$52 per square foot, how many buyers will opt for less than 600 square feet?
And when you add the fact that Home Base will come with a the hassle of a mandatory membership HOA — meaning rules and restrictions, plus the additional cost of assessments on top of property taxes — is it really an affordable option?
Public opposition to tiny home community
As if those obstacles were not enough to overcome, Nelson and Sherman also face stiff opposition to their proposed new community. A vocal minority of neighboring homeowners fear that building a subdivision of much smaller houses next to their expensive, spacious homes will drag down their property values.
Some homeowners fear that Home Base will end up being — essentially — a group of individually owned rental homes. And there’s plenty of documented examples of financially struggling, affordable housing projects that start out as owner-occupied, but end up as landlord — or slumlord — owned.
Tiny homes controversy is anything but small and cute
BY CARRIE RENGERS
August 17, 2018 07:46 PM
Updated August 19, 2018 10:50 AM
The emailed threat read like dialogue from 1930s pulp fiction.
“We’re going to tell you this once,” the message began that told Jonathan Endicott to give up his fight against the MicroMansions tiny homes development planned near his Cambria neighborhood, just south of Harry and 143rd East.
“If not we will use all of our resources, money and means to stop you. You’re dealing with powerful people that have no problems attacking your business, life and family if you choose not to stop.”
Hundreds of residents whose neighborhoods would surround Home Base have signed a petition against the development and some have reached out to [the land owner] Murfin, including people who know him personally or through business.
Property values — or perceived property values, says Endicott, who says he’s actually a fan of tiny homes — are at the heart of the issue.
“My biggest fear . . . is what this looks like if it’s a failed concept,” says Ryan Schweizer, who lives in Sierra Hills behind where Home Base would be.
Schweizer and others worry the development eventually could become rental homes with “the loss in desirability in the area and therefore property values falling.”
“It’s fairly clear what history has taught us.”
A lot is left unsaid in the Wichita Eagle article.
First of all, the vocal homeowners trying to prevent a MicroMansion community are, more than likely, part of that annoying minority of housing consumers that are die-hard fas of restrictive covenants, blindly clinging to the unproven, trade group invented concept that “HOAs protect property values.”
But even though Home Base is planned to be covenant restricted and HOA-governed, that’s still not good enough for the elite class of owners who apparently believe that every home within walking distance to theirs needs to be at least as large and luxurious.
Kind of ironic, isn’t it?
So, is there a better solution?
I have a hunch that there is.
From a housing conusmer’s point of view, smaller and more affordable homes are appealing. But how about a happy medium between squeezing into less than 600 square feet and spreading out over more than 2,500 square feet?
How about building some new detached homes in the 900 to 1,800 square foot range? Perhaps updated single story or Cape Cod or Bungalow styles that allow the home buyer to finish the attic or basement several years in the future, if and when they need more space?
Previous generations — our parents and grandparents — raised families with 2 to 6 children in 1,000 or 1,200 square foot homes. They often added on rooms, garage apartments, or casitas in the back yard for adult children or aging parents, as needed.
And, here’s the shocker. No HOA was needed to monitor the neighborhood. The homeowner didn’t have to ask permission to modify their home to suit their needs. And, in those days, nobody cared if your house was bigger or smaller than the house next door. Neighborhoods grew organically, one house at a time, as the needs of the property owner changed over time.
Why has the idea of unplanned, grow-as-you-go growth become such a foreign concept?
Also, prior to the 1970s and 1980s, the City or County took care of basics like maintaining streets and storm drainage, picking up the trash, or preventing crime. At one time, those were considered necessary services to serve the public good.
It can be that way again, when local decision makers start thinking outside the HOA box.
Realtors tell me that advertising an existing home with NO HOA, is a huge selling point these days.
Someone should consider serving a home buyer’s market that is hungry for modestly sized and priced homes, without the bureaucracy and financial burden of an HOA. And smart City and County leaders need to help make that happen.