The Tiny House Movement Needs Friendly Zoning Laws

Micro-living is having a moment — as evidenced by a recent Portlandia sketch — and the Bay Area is jumping on the bandwagon.

San Francisco already has micro-apartments (with more in the pipeline), but according to Curbed SF, we're only seeing the beginning of a big push for smallness in the Bay Area. Jay Shafer, founder of Four Lights and Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, is scouting four potential sites in Sebastopol to develop into a tiny house community. Curbed also reports that Shafer is in conversation with local officials and hopes to begin construction within a year.

If Sebastopol is too off the beaten path for you, there’s still hope. Chelsea Rustrum, a local collaborative housing advocate and interdependence consultant, is looking to develop a tiny house community “within close proximity to San Francisco.” She’ll host a meetup on April 1 to strategize about potential properties and how to secure funding for the micro-community's land.

While enthusiasm for the tiny house movement runs high nationally, such communities often run into hurdles even after land is secured and houses are built. The tiny houses of Washington DC’s Boneyard Studios, for example, sit empty as a sort of showcase of tiny living's potential (the city’s zoning laws prohibit anyone from legally living there). If this movement is to fully realize, we will need friendly legislation ASAP or the momentum gained in recent years may fall by the wayside.

Cost varies greatly from a low of zero (if you can get all your materials donated or find free salvage) to $40,000 or more, but in general, the average tiny house on wheels will cost $20,000 to $25,000 in materials. Be sure to create a budget. Many folks do the carpentry work themselves but budget for hiring an electrician and plumber. It's important to consider security during your build and even after you're living in it. You can make it difficult for a thief to tow away your tiny house by installing a hitch lock (Megahitch Lock Coupler Vault or TriMax Universal Unattended Coupler) or by using a wheel lock. GPS devices can help you track your house if it does get stolen. However, most require frequent charging of a battery and so will be useful only if you go to the build site frequently. Here's a helpful article with additional tips on securing your tiny house.

Break up your project into a step by step list. This will not only help you stay on task making sure you aren’t forgetting anything but will also give you a sense of accomplishment as you scratch off each step along the way. It’s easy to lose sight of how much has already been done when stuck in that uncomfortable stage where it feels like something is never going to end. Looking back at what’s already been done is a reality check of how far I’ve already come. If you are really stuck in transition, you can break down your to do list into even smaller tasks. Ideally, these are tasks that can be accomplished in an hour or two. Small, nibble sized jobs.

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