Tiny Homes: Solutions for the Haves and Have Nots

fish carby Carli Velocci
Photos by Miranda Aisling

People are lined up around the parking lot at the former Waste Management site, nearly from end to end, all to get into what looks like a shed. The tiny home sits on a trailer bed in the middle of the Somerville Big Tiny House Festival as small groups shuffle in and out to get a look at the cramped but organized quarters. There’s room for a small kitchen, a lounging area and a bathroom. It’s not a lot of space, but it’s just enough to live comfortably, and to some, that’s attractive.

If you can look past the pint-sized space, it’s easy to see why the tiny homes movement has spread. People across the country are moving out of standard homes and into self-sustained, cozy structures that are generally around 20 feet long. There’s a lot to like about these homes: they leave a reduced environmental footprint, allow people to live without excess possessions and are much cheaper than renting or having a mortgage.

“We pay $8,000 in taxes right now in our big house, and I have no desire to be there,” said Sonya Scorse. She, along with her husband Jeff, was showing off pictures of their tiny house prototype, a shack-like structure not yet big enough to live in, but just large enough for a game of cards. “The big thing is being financially free. You’re not free if you owe people money.”

Christopher Page was one of the builders at the festival. He is on a quest to find land near Boston for his tiny home. He’s building a 15-by-25 foot house in Andover, where he’s originally from, but he’s looking to move closer to the city for grad school. A tiny home would be a sensible option for a graduate student’s lifestyle (and budget), but Page doesn’t expect he’ll just be able to plant his tiny homestead just anywhere.

“You’ll have to find a certain kind of person that will have a weird little building in the back of their house,’ he said. “It’s kind of tiny homean unorthodox thing.”

Tiny homes are not only attracting eccentric home builders. The space efficient, low-cost housing option could be a viable solution to the city’s increasingly strapped housing market. While rural areas such as Western Mass. are already playing home to these tiny house enthusiasts, here in Somerville, some are looking to these small spaces as an alternative to homeless shelters and low income housing.

“The cost to put a family in a homeless shelter is $36,000 a year,” said Mark Alston-Follansbee, Executive Director of the Somerville Homeless Coalition. He is working with architects and city officials to open up the conversation about microunits to house the homeless. Alston-Follansbee’s compact, self-contained spaces, complete with a small kitchen, bed and common area, would cost the city less than $20,000 a year. Twelve units could fit in the same area as a two family house.

“It’s obscene how much they give us to shelter people. Put the money into housing,” said Alston-Follansbee.

There is no shortage of people in the metro Boston area who are looking for ways to save money. In addition to tiny homes hobbyists, many in the region could benefit from taking a fresh look at the space a home needs to occupy. Somerville might not be full of backyards in which to park these tiny homes, but the movement is here and shedding new light on the way we can live.