Dialogue Discusses Tiny Homes in Columbus: Are they practical?

The Columbus Housing Dialogue met this morning at Homeport in Downtown Columbus to learn about tiny housing as an option for affordable housing in Columbus. Amy Price (Community Shelter Board) and Kim Stands (City of Columbus) led the group through different variations of tiny homes along with contextual data about changing trends in housing square footage.

In the U.S. average size of new single family homes grew from 1780 sq. ft. in 1978 to 2479 sq. ft in 2007, despite a decrease in the size of the average family. To be considered a “tiny house,” the home can range from 80 sq. ft. to 1000 sq. ft. When tiny houses have been constructed as a solution to homelessness, costs range from $5,000 to $87,500 per unit.

The group discussed the feasibility of constructing tiny homes in Columbus. Building such small homes could prove challenging due to restrictive building requirements like minimum square footage and lot coverage. Our region is seeing an increase in demand for smaller living units, though not necessarily as affordable housing. Developments on the Stoddard Block of S. 4th Street and the Ibel site at N. High & W. 3rd Avenue both include micro-housing units aimed at the high-end market.

After breaking into small groups to determined pros and cons of tiny housing in Columbus, the group listed questions for researchers and practitioners to consider about the topic.

What are the research questions?

What changes to zoning would be required to accommodate this type of housing? Fire code issues? Some of these costs don’t seem realistic; how can we validate the cost model? What will infrastructure cost? What will sewer and water and electricity cost?
ADU: Accessory Dwelling Units; additional units on the lot of a single-family homes. Can this be part of the solution to aging in place? The lot size requirements in the metro area aren’t friendly to seniors.
Addressing some of the zoning and code issues might begin to break down barriers.
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Could philanthropic leaders provide dollars for a pilot-project?

Maybe someone could do a thesis on what it would take to allow these types of units in Columbus? Perhaps a graduate studio class?

An exact cost-model would be nice. How to achieve such low rent costs? Was land donated? Was there a tax credit? Are there best practices to get costs down? Did the city waive some type of fee?

Are there community recreation spaces indoors that are needed when people have very small apartments? In some European communities there are shared living spaces like a TV room or dining area. What is the additional cost involved for this type of communities?

Who is ideal for this type of housing? Couples? Adults? Children would be a challenge.
What are the practitioner questions?

How do we segment the demand for this? Seniors? Young people? Baristas? Millennial living with parents? Low-income families? Students? Which markets are we talking about; because all of these people are low-income. What products are appropriate for which segments?

Would communities accept these? How to do scattered site successfully into historic neighborhoods? IT will really come down to aesthetics? The “cabin in the woods” may not fit in the city, but they could be designed to fit better into the existing housing. For example, the facade could be two stories so there’s not a big gap in the scale of the street.
Can we bring architects in to make design work for the populations we want to serve?
How do low-income people view this? Is this just a planner’s idea or do people actually want this?
Assuming that people want this; how do we integrate it into existing neighborhoods?
How would this type of housing drive density in urban places? How would this affect the market for retailers? The impact on food deserts…commercial activity…do we have the “rooftops” to support businesses coming into the community? Would this type of community increase or decrease density? Could a tiny house development tip the scale for a neighborhood in need of one?
Could the community support other amenities like solar panels and community gardens and other features in a community-like setting. Sustainable communities?
What is the intersection of this type of housing with limited transportation options in Columbus? Where are all the cars going? Or if people don’t have cars, then what are their options?
There are already small housing units in Columbus, so integrating tiny housing in Columbus shouldn’t seem that far-fetched.
See slides from the Tiny House Presentation here.