Tiny Houses Ad Nauseam

Carol Denney
Wednesday November 22, 2017 - 09:30:00 PM

Tiny houses have no legal definition. This is no accident. You can gold plate the doorknob of a tiny house if you want to, but you don't have to. You don't have to provide heat, or plumbing, or windows that open, or have a closet, etc. You can plunk down a plastic tool shed or a cardboard box and charge money for it unless you have what California has: habitability standards. 

One of the Santa Cruz council representatives did that. Councilman Micah Posner built a shed in his backyard and rented it without permits, kitchen, heat, bathroom, etc. What's wrong with that? Well, for starters, it's against the law he, as a council representative, is supposed to know. But it takes very special chutzpah to break the law and be on a city council where you not only are supposed to know the law but tasked with weighing in on other people's permit applications and violations. 

If you add heat, windows, plumbing, and a kitchenette to a "tiny home" you've exceeded the cost of simply building a normal-sized apartment unit. There is no advantage to miniaturization if making things smaller which meets habitability standards actually costs more than just building SROs, or apartment units designed for small groups. Having a standard set of sizes for doors, windows, appliances, etc. enables manufacturers and developers to lower costs. And if you're saving money by not paying people that's generally a model most people consider to be unfair

The bait-and-switch tiny house marketing with bells and whistles like plumbing and heat and a cunning, small window works with people who don't ask what that one costs. They click on that fancy-ass thing on the website and they think that's what will be built- because there is no legal definition. But the real issue is- does miniaturization within required habitability standards actually save costs? The answer is no, because it actually costs more to make custom (small-sized or non-standard) windows, appliances, etc. So what's the point? The point, as most developers know, is to undermine habitability standards and tenants' rights so that you can stuff more people in less space and charge them up the ass for housing which would otherwise be illegal.  

There's no way any configuration of a tiny house can shelter as many people for as little money as an ordinary-sized apartment building. And there's no guarantee that charging $2,000 for it won't turn into $4,000, or even more. Doing lucrative favors for developers is what built the housing crisis. Doing more lucrative favors for them will only work against the people they're exploiting in the first place. 

The best way to save money and address immediate needs is to open up unused space: create campgrounds, suspend Airb&b rentals, require spaces on the market for more than 6 months to accommodate people during the housing crisis with eminent domain. Dust off real rent control and bark back at developers and landlord who don't like the constraints on skyrocketing rents by pointing out, ever so gently, that there's a downside to having hepatitis outbreaks and children trying to do their homework from a freezing car. 

Cities like Berkeley, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz not only have enough money to house everybody on the street for five years, they have enough money to send those people through college. They may not budget for it, but that's another story.