During his first five years, Shafer says, he sold 10 sets of plans per year. But tiny houses’ popularity took off after the housing bust and economic downturn in 2008. “Americans still like our stuff big and cheap, so a 100-square-foot house is not for everyone or big families. But people in tiny homes save a ton of money on heating and AC,” Shafer says.
Shafer recently moved from his 90-square-foot house to a “by comparison palatial 500-square-foot home” after his wife had their second child.
Despite the fact that tiny houses are, well, tiny, affordable-housing advocates are researching the possibility that attractive micro homes could one day complement or replace stigmatized trailer parks and low-income housing, especially in places such as the District, where they could be built in unused vacant spaces such as alleys.
“I like the concept, and I’m intrigued. But it’s so small that it’s only good for a single person or a very-much-in-love couple,” says George Rothman, president of Manna, a nonprofit affordable-housing builder and developer. “There’s also the issue of land and zoning, and those are huge issues.”
There are no micro loans for micro houses, because most tiny homes don’t qualify for mortgages. Some banks do commonly offer personal, unsecured lines of credit, and some tiny-home owners get significant lines of credit from places such as Home Depot. But there’s also the issue of buying land.
Boneyard Studios’ Levy purchased his 5,200-square-foot lot in Stronghold for $31,000. There are dozens of vacant lots around the city that are on the market for less than $50,000, which means the tiny abodes could be a good option for people building affordable housing down the line, Levy says.
So far, he says, the tiny-house trend has drawn a cross section of fans to the Stronghold community — especially young couples who are living with their parents.
Eating a brunch of black-bean burritos on the construction site in Stronghold on a recent Saturday, a couple who hope to build a tiny house in Loudoun County came by for some tips.
Brandon Pilarski, 36, a waiter, and his partner, Leigh Anne Rochelle, 28, a waitress, are living with her parents in Loudoun.
“Just knowing that I don’t have to wait 20 years to have a house paid off is really wonderful,” says Rochelle, who is working on whittling down her large amount of clothing so it will fit in their new tiny house. But just in case, “we might keep a little storage at my parents’ place.”
Their dream house may be tiny, but they still live in America, after all.