Could the answer to the Valley’s affordable housing crisis be as simple as downsizing?
Perhaps the old woman who lived in a shoe was onto something. More than 200 years after the nursery rhyme was penned, homebuilders are embracing her ethos of living small. The tiny house movement started in the 1980s but became popular after the 2009 crash. In the Valley, tiny homes are slowly gaining traction as a possible solution to an affordable housing crisis.
Our eviction rate is one of the highest among major metros in the U.S.: 5.9 percent in 2017, per online search firm Apartment List. Rents are rising while incomes stay stagnant. In Tempe, where 67 percent of low-income renters pay more than 50 percent of their income on housing, the city and nonprofit Newtown Community Development Corporation are breaking ground on a small home community to address the problem.
Newtown is building a dozen “micro estates” – at 600 square feet, they are slightly larger than the average tiny home of 100 to 400 square feet – near Rural and Apache roads through its community land trust (CLT). David Crummey, Newtown real estate development manager, explains CLT as “community-controlled land. The focus is on permanent affordability.” (The homes will sell for about $100,000.)
Justin Beers, who’s building the Hummingbird Tiny Home Inn in Cave Creek, says his family sold 85 percent of their belongings to move into an AirStream on site. The inn’s purpose is to let guests try out the five tiny homes built by Valley-based Uncharted Tiny Homes. “[They could be] young people that want to actually afford a home, they want equity, retirees who want to survive on [modest pensions].”
The trickiest part of tiny homes, Beers and Crummey say, is not downsizing but zoning. Each Valley city has its own zoning regulations regarding how much square footage is required to be considered residential. In other words, you can’t buy a parcel of land and plop a tiny home on it. Beers says he’s getting around that by zoning the inn as an RV park, while Crummey is working with the city of Tempe to apply for Planned Area Development, or a customized zoning district. However, learning to live in less space isn’t that hard. “We had the half-million-dollar home in Scottsdale and we weren’t happy with it,” Beers says. “It was the time we got to spend with each other that mattered.”
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