Tiny homes were a millennial fad and became a Hail Mary to solve the homelessness problem

The tiny home sums up all the American love for the single-family home. A literally diminished reality corresponds to an ever-diminishing dream of an all-American style of ownership.

The phenomenon has its roots in the early 2000s, when many millennials rebelled against the genteel norms of late 20th century culture. The millennial aesthetic is famously minimalist, and the tiny house was minimalism writ large—that is, very, very small.

But in recent years, tiny homes have transformed from a millennial lifestyle trend or gimmick into a potential solution to the housing crisis. As an affordability crisis grips the nation and homelessness rises, communities of tiny homes have popped up from Wisconsin to Austin. In California, grappling with one of the nation’s worst housing crises, Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed last year to build 1,200 tiny homes as temporary housing in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose and Sacramento.

Unfortunately, it appears that tiny homes are an imperfect solution to high housing costs and increasing homelessness. So why, then, do politicians, non-profit organizations and even charitable companies love tiny houses so much? It has something to do with Americans’ persistent addiction: an obsession with single-family homes.

When it comes to housing, America is different

America thinks about housing differently than most other places, and nothing demonstrates this like the 21st century tiny house phenomenon. The caricature of a miniature, 1950s-style suburban house speaks to something in the American identity that equates being a homeowner with having your own space that separates you from others.

“In other countries,” said University of Georgia professor Sonia Hirt Fortune, “where people aren’t as interested in actually living on their own private lot, their homeownership rates, for example, are much higher than ours.” As dean of Georgia’s college of environmental design, Hirt has long studied America’s fascination with single-family homes. In other countries, she points out, the term “single-family home” does not exist and the word “family” is not used in building codes.

“It’s interesting, culturally, that we’ll be willing to have a smaller house but not necessarily a smaller yard,” he said.

According to Kate Wagner, the architecture critic who documented America’s “McMansion Hell” in her blog of the same name, the single-family home was a “kind of middle-class, professional-class, 19th-century invention” that was essentially perfected in the United States. In America more than 100 years ago, companies “could basically build a house like that [was] mass-produced, easily distributable, accessible to generally middle-class people. As the American economy took off in the 1920s and developed into the postwar baby boom period, the emergence of the largest middle class in the history of the world went hand in hand with the flourishing of the single-family home lifestyle. “It was a huge change,” Wagner said Fortune.

Even now, 75 years later, there is little sign that the nation’s reliance on single-family homes is easing. The mini-boom in residential construction recorded last November was largely single-family. As Lisa Sturtevant, chief economist at multiple listing service Bright MLS, pointed out at the time, new single-family businesses were up more than 40% from the previous year, but new multifamily businesses were down nearly 34%. And until a few years ago, 75% of residential land across the country was zoned for single-family homes, which meant it was illegal to build anything else in those areas, according to a report New York Times analyses.

Before the pandemic, America was already facing a housing shortage, especially affordable housing, in key parts of the country, including the largest cities with the highest-paying jobs. After the pandemic-fueled real estate boom, with home prices and rents rising sharply and mortgage rates at the highest levels in decades, the single-family home has become much less affordable. Now, it is a coveted commodity that is inextricably linked to wealth in American society. Some millennials rebelled against it, in the form of tiny homes, and for them, tiny homes were affordable compared to the homes their parents owned. Tiny homes have helped millennials save money and travel without being tied down. While the tiny home can be traced back to the culture of nomadism and miniature living of the 1970s, according to Wagner, “it is very much an invention of the 2010s… a post-recession invention.”

“This was an era of cultural minimalism, where you saw minimalism in everything,” he said. This “post-recession aestheticism,” in Wagner’s thinking, was fueled by cultural change among the upper-middle class, as a revaluation of needs, or by materialism itself. Tiny homes have become a form of showing how little you need — a direct rebuke to the era of McMansions, Wagner explained.

In any case, tiny houses, although much smaller than standard ones, are not necessarily much cheaper. Whether it’s a tiny house or a McMansion, there are costs associated with a new housing development, said Jeff Kruth, assistant professor of architecture and urban design at the University of Miami. You’ll save on construction costs, but you’re still buying land, “so in terms of actual costs per square foot, you’re not actually looking at a huge difference between a tiny house and something that’s even slightly more modest,” he said, compared to typical house.

Small in size, less in cost

In some ways, tiny homes and tiny home communities are simply a rebranding of mobile homes and trailer parks — the only real difference is the cultural class association, Kruth said. While the tiny home movement is a rebuke to the early 2000s trend of inflating the size of homes, it still expresses the “detached home as the ideal,” he said.

Tiny homes also contribute to American aspirations for ownership, including the desire for privacy, said Brian Miller, a sociology professor at Wheaton College. “On the other hand, it’s very different from the typical progression of the last few decades where American homes continue to get bigger and bigger,” Miller said, later adding that “tiny houses are sometimes an explicit rejection of that.” .

But they’re not necessarily for low-income families, they’re actually for people who can afford this kind of lifestyle, one that allows you to do it temporarily and maybe even pay for a storage unit for your material possessions, he suggested Miller. Yet somehow tiny homes have entered a new era, now representing an (imperfect) solution to the housing crisis, which has manifested itself in unaffordable housing costs and a growing homeless population. Tiny homes are an individualized solution, Wagner emphasized. “The reality is we just need to build housing,” he said. But the push for tiny homes as a response to the housing crisis is a perverse consequence of the inequality inherent in the American economy.

“What makes these people inferior to you? Would you live in a tiny house if you didn’t want to? I wouldn’t do that,” she said. “What makes the homeless eligible to be some sort of object of architectural experimentation?”

Still, tiny homes can be helpful, said Donald Whitehead Jr., executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. They provide shelter and security, although sometimes they don’t even have a bathroom. It’s an “imperfect” solution, he said, but he added, “we have such a profound shortage when it comes to affordable housing that we have to exercise every option, even if it’s not the best.”

However, in his view, this means that we are a society that does not see housing as a right, but as a commodity. The bigger the house, the better off you are – that’s why tiny homes have become an option. “People don’t value the life that’s in those tiny homes,” Whitehead said.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *