Tiny houses -- killing the dream

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page -

The Ed­i­tor, It’s amaz­ing how much the sub­ject of tiny houses is of in­ter­est to many. You have prob­a­bly seen ar­ti­cles on the sub­ject shared by your friends on Face­book or that you found in the me­dia. The num­ber of vis­its to web­sites that present tiny houses is huge. Why is there so much in­ter­est for that type of hous­ing?

The cost of a dwelling in Canada and many other coun­tries has be­come out of range for so many, it’s de­press­ing. Out of 47 coun­tries, Canada ranks 33rd on the cur­rent Wikipedia home own­er­ship rate. The ra­tio of owne­roc­cu­pied units to to­tal res­i­den­tial units in the coun­try was 67.6% in 2013 just a bit above that of the United King­dom and the United States.

For most young peo­ple, own­ing a house is unimaginab­le. As they be­come earn­ers, they think they will prob­a­bly be renters for­ever and prefer­ably not in a ma­jor city. They dream of an af­ford­able tiny house.

El­ders may own a house, but main­tain­ing it and pay­ing taxes take a big­ger and big­ger chunk out of their re­tire­ment money. They wish they had a smaller dwelling es­pe­cially if it was on their cur­rent prop­erty.

Some are look­ing for a smaller, more ef­fi­cient, en­ergy-sav­ing home and oth­ers want to avoid waste while adopt­ing a min­i­mal­ist way of life.

A tiny house could be a flat for granny or grandpa or both, or for older chil­dren who should be on their own, a rental unit for in­come, a small cot­tage out in the coun­try, a good shel­ter for dis­placed per­sons or refugees.

There’s even an in­ter­est for tiny houses down­town to avoid ur­ban sprawl and carde­pen­dent com­mu­ni­ties.

For all these rea­sons, you would think there would be a lot of builders on the band­wagon, of­fer­ing their mod­els of tiny houses. Well, there are many such builders; just Google “tiny houses” or check Ki­jiji. But buy­ers who have taken the plunge and or­dered a tiny house soon find out there are ma­jor ob­sta­cles.

The first is what a mu­nic­i­pal­ity will al­low you to build. The Cana­dian Build­ing Code is most of­ten used as a guide­line, how­ever, each com­mu­nity can amend these guide­lines to fit its own vi­sion of a com­mu­nity. Even though there are no size re­quire­ments in the code, the com­mu­nity will pre­fer a big­ger house that gen­er­ates a good rev­enue and less ex­penses (sewer in­stal­la­tion, garbage dis­posal, etc.). Iron­i­cally, tiny house own­ers would prob­a­bly have a com­post­ing toi­let and less garbage.

You should be able to have a tiny house as long as it meets the build­ing code. But some re­quire­ments of the code are not adapted to the tiny house con­cept; for ex­am­ple, lad­ders to a loft do not meet the cur­rent code. Try­ing to have the build­ing code mod­i­fied is such a timely ex­er­cise in back and forth ne­go­ti­a­tions, it will dis­cour­age any­one from try­ing. Yet, in the con­text of a hous­ing short­age and pre­dictable en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ters, the build­ing code part­ners should fast track the adop­tion of al­ter­na­tive ma­te­ri­als and con­struc­tion tech­niques.

Some com­mu­ni­ties will al­low you to have a tiny house which is mov­able (on wheels). But RV pro­duc­ing com­pa­nies are ac­tively op­pos­ing this com­pe­ti­tion and lob­by­ing to have tiny houses on wheels banned.

The list of ob­jec­tions from mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties can be long and var­ied. In the end, each build­ing direc­tor of each mu­nic­i­pal­ity can dic­tate whether or not you can build a tiny house on land you own and how. Yet, they feel com­pelled to fol­low the reg­u­la­tions they know re­gard­less of in­ter­na­tional, na­tional, or pro­vin­cial plans to re­duce our en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print. Most com­mu­ni­ties will not al­low two fam­i­lies to live on the same lot.

So here we are with an ur­gent need for af­ford­able homes and a pos­si­ble so­lu­tion but no lead­er­ship for it to hap­pen, no na­tional hous­ing strat­egy. Who will take the lead in a hous­ing rev­o­lu­tion: the con­sumers, or the builders, or any gov­ern­men­tal level, mu­nic­i­pal, pro­vin­cial, or fed­eral? Right now, we are mostly killing the dream of own­ing a tiny house. Suzanne Blouin, Alexan­dria

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