A strategy for the micro housing movement
The Micro Showcase (MS) fits into a wider strategy to spread the appeal of micro housing across the U.S. [see ‘What is Microhousing‘]. In the interest of transparency and feedback, here is how we conceptualize the current issues, and form a strategic response. Let us know what we’ve missed. Thanks to allies at HUD and Sustainafest for their detailed input.
The problem: A historic American ‘big is better’ mentality results in U.S. average new build residential square footage increasing every year. Yet we are objectively no happier than we were 60 years ago when per capita square footage was 3x smaller, larger houses consume more of our time, mental energy and financial resources, U.S. housing is 20% of CO2 emissions (and house size increases have outpaced historic CO2 reductions enabled by residential efficiency), and even as houses enlarge we still have a widespread affordable housing crisis.
The current state of micro-house movement in the U.S.: It’s been over 12 years since Tumbleweed introduced tiny homes to the U.S in 2003. Since then there have been over 13 million new houses built here, over 3 million RV’s and trailers sold, sustained press interest in micro-units (both tiny houses and micro apartments), a major recession that stimulated downsizing, and a dramatic increase in the percentage and number of households consisting of a single person living alone. Yet the number of new tiny homes in the U.S. and micro apartment units (all in NYC/DC/SanFran/Seattle/Portland) built to date is best measured in the low thousands- the Urban Land Institute found in 2014 just 1657 micro units in the U.S., with 1844 more planned (source). Apart from these, there are perhaps a few hundred new detached ‘tiny homes’ on wheels or foundations around the country. In total, roughly .00009% of these 16 million new houses and RV’s. At the same time, average new home construction square footage continues to rise each year: 2598 ft2 in 2013. In 2013, just 1% of home buyers purchased places of less than 1,000 ft2. Usually when material conditions change, values follow. Yet micro is still primarily a fringe, DIY movement in the U.S. Part of this is surely due to difficulties with the widely cited issues of financing and local zoning issues. But even if this prevented 99% of all micro-units from being built, there should still be 160,000 micro-units across the land, tens of thousands of new units in every major metropolitan area.
Theory: Code and zoning changes, financing and the developer resources needed to increase the number of micro-units are dependent on changing political will and market demand away from ‘bigger=better’ and towards quality of life and quality of construction. Changing the mainstream mentality is partially a function of economics (housing affordability), technology (use of space), demographics (# of smaller households). But smaller housing can be recognized as more affordable, simpler, functional, greener, and modest, but until it’s cool/sexy/hip (not ‘hippy/crunchy/tiny’) there will be limited mass appeal and demand. Thus excellence in design and architecture (making small beautiful + livable + affordable), and effective marketing to promote cultural acceptance of micro housing are perceived as the priorities.
Mission: we are a growing community of architects, designers, builders, and do-ers that dream of growing the micro house movement by making small & simple cool, and returning to the per capita square footage (300ft2) that served us well decades ago, for our own well being and that of our community and planet.
|Strategy||Logic||MS Action||MS Indicators||Future|
|Promote livable, beautiful, sustainable microhouses||Most current designs feel less than fully functional for much of the mainstream population (no full closets, cramped lofts, etc), who then dismiss the microliving movement. Mainstream developers remain unconvinced there is a market.||Original commission of Minim House trailer, construction of ‘best-in-class’ prefab foundation built option (Studio Shed), other projects; Website + monthly Micro Showcase open houses and school tours promote ‘touch and feel’ experience that a virtual interface cannot.||# mainstream press articles (18+), # mainstream TV shows (1: Tiny House Nation), # design awards (3), # open house/tour guests (2015: 350), # home show appearances (5), # public lectures (2015: 4).||National tour of Intel Minim tech showcase house in fall 2015 + promotion at CES 2016. Collaboration with Baum Development/Garver 50 unit micro house showcase in WI; Tiny House Hunting episode with Minim;|
|Make quality microhouses accessible||The large majority of those interested in microhousing do not have the time, skills, or land to design and/or build their own dwelling.||Provide detailed plan sets and completed units for sale (Minim Homes LLC); ID financing+insurance options. Promote other high quality designs through MS website.||# plans sold (86), # completed units sold (1), # pricing inquiries (2650), # new microunits under development nationally (no current est.)||More sales/licensing nationally. Engage with developers to advocate for microhousing projects.|
|Provide quality information on furnishings, tools and technology to enable micro-living||Many micro supporters have existing homes they wish to make more space efficient/organized (rather than build new). Majority of tiny/micro house blogs and FB pages are unstructured, low production value, limited original content.||Micro Showcase website/blog + Facebook page, original, well researched and tested content. Promotion to designers, architects, developers and builders.||Website unique visitors/yr. (28K/month Minim+MicroShowcase sites)||New website content, new product testing.|
|Build leadership and engagement in the micro-housing movement||Lack of opportunity for those wishing to advance understanding of micro-living to develop additional skills and knowledge.||Micro Showcase paid internship program with research, hands-on building experience, structured readings, etc; Cardozo High School Students tiny house build at Micro Showcase. Free building plans to support high school build programs (SustainaFest).||# interns (2); # student builders (25+)||DCCTF Minim House under construction 2016. Curriculum development for school tours.|
|Change local codes/zoning to allow microhomes as apartments, ADU’s, and standalone microhousing||Zoning and code restrictions are one of the primary roadblocks to growth of microhousing across the U.S.||Lobbying and testifying in the DC zoning rewrite 2012-2015. Collaboration with DC Coalition for Smarter Growth.||# testimony filed (55) and testified (2); DC ADU code change; member and DC chapter leader of American Tiny House Association||ID model codes for adoption around the country; Status update of microbuilding in DC with real estate lawyer review.|