New move­ment sweep­ing na­tion

GA Voice - - Front Page - By DYANA BAGBY

Af­ter work­ing in cor­po­rate Amer­ica for more than a decade, Will John­ston de­cided he’d had enough.

“I reached a point and said I am done with this,” he says.

He quit his job, sold most of his be­long­ings, moved out of his 900-square foot space in Ponce Springs Lofts, and set off on a three­month back­pack­ing trip across New Zealand.

Still not sure what he wanted to do when he re­turned to At­lanta last April, John­ston started read­ing and hear­ing about tiny houses and a new move­ment for peo­ple who wanted to live smaller and sim­pler.

“I was hear­ing about peo­ple who wanted to sim­plify their life by re­duc­ing space and max­i­miz­ing their time, and re­duc­ing debt and not buy­ing into a con­sumer na­ture,” he says.

His in­ter­est was piqued. So much so that he started Tiny Homes At­lanta, a meetup group of some 270 peo­ple. The group meets reg­u­larly and mem­bers share a phi­los­o­phy that in­cludes not be­ing forced to work jobs they don’t like sim­ply to keep an ex­pen­sive house over their heads ei­ther through rent or mort­gages.

“The tiny house move­ment is the tip of the ice­berg of our so­ci­ety hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion about hous­ing and why it is so ex­pen­sive,” he says. “Why are we do­ing this to our­selves? My goal is to fo­cus on af­ford­able—I hate the term af­ford­able—but at­tain­able hous­ing.”

Living and buy­ing a home in At­lanta is not cheap, he notes. Houses in Cab­bage­town with maybe just 700 square feet can still sell for more than $200,000. But a tiny house at 176 square feet of us­able space, which can be built on a trailer and towed by your heavy-duty pickup truck to var­i­ous living lo­ca­tions, can be built for ap­prox­i­mately $66,000.

Right now, John­ston, who is debt-free, lives with friends in Spire.Mid­town, a luxury apart­ment and condo build­ing. And he un­der­stands he is for­tu­nate he can live the way he does.

Not many peo­ple can quit their jobs like he did and still have a safe space to live. “I know a lot of peo­ple who are trapped,” he says.

His even­tual goal is to be able to buy a plot of land and build a tiny house—but land is so valu­able in At­lanta. An at­tempt to buy a 720-square-foot house in Adair Park was quashed when the bank told him they would not loan him the money un­less he made the struc­ture big­ger or de­mol­ished it to put up a big­ger house, he said.

He has vi­sions of build­ing tiny house vil­lages along the At­lanta Belt­line, or con­struct­ing tiny houses in blighted neigh­bor­hoods. And he’s hop­ing to build a tiny house this year to use as an ed­u­ca­tional re­source for At­lantans want­ing to learn more about the topic.

“Mov­ing from 5,000 square feet to 500 square feet I think is awe­some. My living room is go­ing out­side and meet­ing new peo­ple,” he says. “If we re­duce spend­ing and living struc­tures, I think that can lead to healthy lives and healthy com­mu­ni­ties.”

More than a tiny house move­ment

In 1999, the first Tum­ble­weed tiny house was mounted onto a trailer, set­ting in mo­tion the rev­o­lu­tion­ary idea of hav­ing roots but be­ing mo­bile at the same time.

Based on Colorado, Tum­ble­weed has been the go-to for many seek­ing to lessen their car­bon foot­print on the Earth while at the same time free­ing up fi­nances as a way to free up their lives. The com­pany now of­fers work­shops for those in­ter­ested as well as de­sign plans; the com­pany also sells tiny homes and pro­motes DIY build­ing.

For Icarus Sa­van­nah, 28, who iden­ti­fies as queer, build­ing a tiny house was not a luxury they had to work with. Sa­van­nah was living in Ari­zona, out of work, deal­ing with a breakup, and need­ing a place to live.

A neigh­bor was sell­ing an un­fin­ished tiny house for $3,500, so Sa­van­nah saved up and pur­chased it. Sa­van­nah then con­tacted Dee Wil­liams of Port­land, Ore­gon, au­thor of “The Big Tiny” and a tiny house pi­o­neer, for guid­ance.

“I was at Ev­er­green State Col­lege [in Olympia, Wash­ing­ton], was a po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomics ma­jor, work­ing low min­i­mum wage jobs and high bar­ri­ers to em­ploy­ment. And then I stum­bled across tiny houses,” Sa­van­nah says.

Sa­van­nah moved the bones of the 78-square foot—the size of a park­ing spot—home to Ari­zona, on a plot of land their mother owns. And there Sa­van­nah learned, on their own, auto me­chan­ics, car­pen­try, ar­chi­tec­ture, build­ing, paint­ing, and so much more.

It took two years to fin­ish the tiny house and there was plenty of trial and er­ror.

But when fin­ished, Sa­van­nah says, “it was like be­ing in charge of my own des­tiny, cap­tain of my own ship. I don’t have to pay for the priv­i­lege of hav­ing a roof over my head.”

“Those who live in tiny houses value free­dom, sim­plic­ity, the econ­omy of it, the util­ity of it. It frees up a lot of ar­eas in the rest of your life when you don’t have to pay rent or mort­gage,” Sa­van­nah says.

But Sa­van­nah had to leave their tiny house in Ari­zona and move to At­lanta to find work. Now work­ing at REI, they pay rent and live in a room big­ger than the tiny house they had.

“I’m try­ing to save money to get my tiny house here, but now I’m caught in the rent cy­cle here,” Sa­van­nah says.

For Sa­van­nah, build­ing and living in a tiny house was not about sim­pli­fy­ing their life. It was about hav­ing a safe place to live when there was no work and no con­stant in­come.

“Hous­ing is a fun­da­men­tal hu­man right,” Sa­van­nah says. “The tiny house move­ment is a move­ment for eco­nomic rights, hu­man rights. It ad­dresses the fun-

Icarus Sa­van­nah of At­lanta with his tiny house in Ari­zona be­fore it was fin­ished and with the fi­nal re­sult. (Cour­tesy pho­tos)

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