A future educator’s case for tiny homes

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As a future educator whose prospects of home ownership rely on marrying rich, my parents dying or winning the lottery, I paid attention when I first heard about the tiny house. They seem great. A small size means less crap to fill it with, less negative impacts on the environment and, most importantly, less costs.

To put price into perspective, the average tiny house costs roughly $25,000. The average home costs $188,000. RVs cost $122,000. Even mobile homes cost $30 to 70,000 (tiny house giant journey).

Some tiny homes cost even less but are impractical for a state like Michigan. In fact, some can be built for less than $5,000. But these houses often mean one has to live in a yurt or sandbag home. This may be possible in other states, but not in a four-season state like Michigan.

As a college student with debts and a future career that doesn’t pay too greatly, the appeal of the tiny house is obvious. What may appear less obvious is the problems of trying to get a tiny house built, especially in Michigan.

To balance out my search of why tiny house living is great, I Googled “tiny house disasters.” The results weren’t pretty. Besides the impracticality of moving a family of four into a tiny house and expecting it to bring the family so much closer together in more than one way, it appears that a lot of people overlook two crucial details: It’s still a home that has to pass inspections, and you have to put the thing somewhere.

Essentially, these two obstacles equate to building codes and zoning codes. Apparently, building codes are the rules that govern how your house can be built, and zoning codes govern where you can do the building.

In Michigan, zoning codes especially have been a problem. In 2015, MLive picked up the story of Johnathon Bellows, formerly of Flint, who built a 130-square-foot tiny house on a flatbed trailer. After putting the house on his land in Lapeer County, he was told that any house built on this land had to be at least 960 square feet. Bellows now lives in Oregon, with his tiny house withering away to nothing.

Within Michigan, each city has its own zoning codes, thus making it easier or harder to have a tiny house, depending on where you try to build it. For instance, Grand Rapids requires houses to be a minimum of 750 square feet, but Ann Arbor only requires 225 square feet. Lansing doesn’t even have a minimum square footage requirement, though they do have a minimum for property lot sizes.

For college students such as myself who have money on the mind, this offers some hope that tiny house living may still be an option. In fact, two major cities in Michigan will have tiny house communities soon: Traverse City and Detroit.

Traverse City’s tiny house community has actually been established for a while and is continuing to grow. Called the Traverse Bay Resorts, these tiny houses are all made by Wheelhaus and come at a steep price. The only model currently available costs $98,500 and is 450 square feet.

Detroit’s soon-to-be tiny house community is far cheaper. In fact, this $1.5 million project will build 25 homes that are all 250-400 square feet where once-vacant homes stood. According to The Detroit News, the project began as a way to create affordable housing in the city and to fill vacant lands.

It is important to note that Detroit was able to begin this project since the city does not have zoning restrictions, which, according to The Detroit News, is the reason why Bellows was not able to park his tiny home on his Lapeer lot.

The limited locations for which tiny homes in Michigan can thrive also explains why there are over 50 applicants for the Detroit homes already. Given the fact that Detroit has over 300 vacant lots within a mile of where the first batch of tiny houses are being built, it seems likely that, like Traverse City, Detroit’s tiny house movement may become a multi-phase project.

As these tiny homes are being built, the tiny house movement will most likely still prove to be beyond the reach of attainability for most of today’s college students. Zoning and coding laws limit where in the state tiny houses can be legally placed, and lower-priced tiny homes are harder to come by. However, with a low-cost tiny house community underway in Detroit, the tiny house dream in Michigan may not be dead quite yet.