« What's in the Numbers: Understanding Employment Data & Workforce Development | Main | Female Leaders in Community Development: What it Means to be an “Urban Princess” »

April 13, 2012


Nick Dumais

I discovered “tiny houses” about four years ago and find them to be fascinating. Although I doubt I would ever purchase and live in a tiny home, I sympathize with the goal of trying to live with less. Lucas, you mention the challenge of shifting the public mindset away from a focus on McMansions and toward living in smaller spaces. You do a particularly good job of summarizing some of the benefits of living in smaller spaces; I’m certainly persuaded.

After reading your post, I’m still left wondering whether “tiny houses,” as opposed to smaller homes and apartments generally, have a role to play in providing affordable housing. The image I have in mind of a “tiny house” comes from the advertisements you often see online: a miniature gingerbread house on wheels standing alone next to an alpine lake. However, could tiny houses be viable places for low-income people to raise families? Could they reduce the costs to some local governments of providing housing? Should government agencies consider allowing housing vouchers to cover the purchase price of a tiny house?

My guess is that tiny houses, essentially small mobile homes, will remain a niche, luxury market. The goal behind the movement, though, is worthwhile. I am interested to see whether interest in tiny houses is simply a passing fad or represents the more extreme end of a movement toward more sustainable, affordable, and sensible housing.

Margot Elton


Thanks for posting this blog—I found it quite thought provoking. You did a thorough job of laying out the mindset behind the McMansion and the Small House movements, which was very interesting.

I am most interested in the idea of using smaller homes as an affordable housing strategy, given the large number of benefits that they can offer listed in your post. You mention that shifting the perception of a collective mass of Americans to buy into the Small House movement will be no small task; I agree, given that the mentality of our country has always seemed to fit more with the McMansion, bigger-is-always-better mindset. I would have liked to see you delve more into how we might be able to go about this change in perception, however, for I think that’s where the crux of the problem lies. If we can’t get people to buy in, then it won’t matter that the maintenance costs are lower, or that physical health is improved, because no critical mass will be living in Small Homes to get those benefits.

I also think it’s important to note that until this mindset change has occurred, using Small Homes as a strategy for affordable housing may not be the best approach. Reading your blog made me think of Andres Duany’s quote in Suburban Nation, which goes something like, “Don’t experiment on the poor; they have nowhere else to go. Experiment on the rich; they can afford to move out.” I think Duany has an important point here—we can’t just try out a new innovation in housing on the poor and hope that they’ll embrace it because it’s cheaper or more energy efficient. There’s a long history of stigma attached with public and affordable housing and the manner in which it sticks out amongst the rest of a neighborhood’s fabric; in order to eliminate this stigma and build housing that low-income residents are satisfied with, it’s important to create something that fits in, in terms of scale and materiality. So I hesitate to jump on board and say, “yes, lets build Small Homes en mass for the low-income population!” right now; instead, I want to explore ways in which we can help this movement gain traction across the socioeconomic scale, so it can be a viable option for all people, including those with low-incomes.

To that end, I’d like to see the Small House movement, or the Not So Big House movement, focus its attentions on Generation Y. It seems as though this baby boomlet generation is more interested in denser, mixed-use, urban environments. Mike Hawkins from the VHDA talked about the fact that this seems to be the case in Virginia specifically, but the National Association of Realtors also showed that nearly 60% of people surveyed in the Housing Preference survey indicated they would value shorter commuting time over larger house size, which shows a national trend towards less personal space and more mixed-use communities. This is the population where it seems like the idea of smaller houses could gain traction, particularly given the high mobility rates of the under-35 Generation Y’ers and the easy mobility of some Tiny Homes.

Despite the fact that our generation seems to be moving towards smaller homes and, therefore, smaller environmental footprints, I don’t see the Tiny House movement really gaining steam. Susanka’s Not So Big House, however, may be a different story. From what I understand, Susanka’s idea is to eliminate unused space from homes, and build homes that are designed to maximize utility in a smaller, but not necessarily minimal, amount of space. She understands that today, our homes have formal living rooms that sit empty 90% of the time while families opt to spend time in their dens or kitchens. This idea of cutting back to what is actually used, rather than cutting back to spaces so small you can put them on the back of a truck and drive them away, may actually be able to gain that necessary traction, especially as we become more aware of the environmental necessity of increasing density but still maintain our American dreams of privacy and single-family detached homes.

Overall, I am fascinated by the idea of putting Americans into smaller homes. Maybe it’s not realistic to aim for Tiny Houses, but perhaps Not So Big Houses are achievable. I do, however, worry about using Small Houses as an affordable housing strategy until the movement has mainstream appeal, and this strategy won’t be seen as simply giving the poor tiny homes that no one else wants to live in.


For today’s Professional Speaker Training tip I wanted to answer Roy’s question from Facebook.

Brandon Miller

Definitely it is a great expectation,Many of people have passion like big house with luxurious life.Just it needed to think about our future of the beautiful earth.So we should mange within small place.Thanks for beautiful post.


Thanks for all your efforts that you have put in this. Very interesting information. "Live with men as if God saw you converse with God as if men heard you." by Seneca. grants for charity organizations http://we-are-awesome.com/blog/2012/11/update-jean-de-wet/


I actually like what you've acquired here, certainly like what you're saying and the way in which you say it. Spend Less For More At Thomas Sabo http://www.ksjoy.com/plus/view.php?aid=2146

The comments to this entry are closed.