11 November 2020

Let's stop glamourising 'tiny houses', and demand better access to housing

| Zoya Patel
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Tiny house

‘Hipster caravan’: ‘tiny houses’ are under 37 square metres and are usually transportable (but may take the form of a converted shed). Photos: Supplied.

If you head out to the display village for Ginninderry in north Canberra, you can check out Mini-G, the tiny house display that is there as an example of the developer’s commitment to “different housing choices and ways of living”.

But is there really as much ‘choice’ in the tiny house movement as proponents like to think?

It’s been a little over a decade since the ‘tiny house’ movement surged in popularity in the US and trickled across to Australia. The transition of middle-class people to living in smaller dwellings became glamourised by hipsters and their Instagram accounts in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis, and soon became the subject of many blogs and documentaries.

READ ALSO Is buying a house really a sign of financial success anymore?

The choice to live in a house smaller than 37 square metres (the official definition of a ‘tiny house’) has been pitched as an ethical choice to minimise our impact on the environment, and to move away from the capitalist obsession with possessions. It’s also seen as a way to own a home despite being unable to afford an ordinary-sized home due to inaccessible property prices.

But despite the cute branding and the many adorable designs of ‘tiny houses’, it’s all just smoke and mirrors disguising the fact that this isn’t a brand new movement towards a different way of life – it’s just another way of exiling the poor to caravan parks while dismissing the real issue of unaffordable housing.

Shipping container to house

Is the movement to tiny houses perpetuating inequity?

Really, there’s no significant difference between a caravan and a tiny house, other than the aesthetic. They’re both small, often portable dwellings that allow the occupant to live on a smaller plot of land, either rented from the landowner or purchased as a lot.

But where caravan parks are acknowledged to often be the last resort for individuals and families locked out of the housing market due to price, tiny houses are pitched as a cool, hip way to live to a generation equally unable to crack into homeownership.

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Tiny houses offer the middle class who find themselves facing the reality that they won’t be able to afford a home in the suburbs, the way that previous generations did, with a pathway into insecure and cramped accommodation that feels less distasteful than rolling into a caravan park. Where the latter still bears the stigma of the lower class, the tiny house has the necessary window dressing to disguise the inequity at play.

Yes, smaller house sizes help reduce our impact on the environment, but this is achieved more easily through higher density housing, not large swathes of tiny, single-storey houses without efficient plumbing and power.

Let’s call a spade a spade (or a caravan a caravan, as the case may be), and not be sold the lie of a tiny house as fashionable way to transition to inequity.

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HiddenDragon7:58 pm 12 Nov 20

“The choice to live in a house smaller than 37 square metres (the official definition of a ‘tiny house’) has been pitched as an ethical choice to minimise our impact on the environment, and to move away from the capitalist obsession with possessions. “

When the majority of Davos attendees and assorted other Great Reset spruikers are living in tiny houses, that line might be taken seriously – in the meantime, it looks a lot like another case of ” do as I say, not as I do”.

Hidden Dragon,
That is not remotely relevant nor meaningful.
The fact that some rich people, live like rich people has exactly zero to do with how climate change should be addressed or how housing choices could be improved.

Chewy, do you know where or how Canberra residents can purchase land to live in a tiny house? (serious question, not fishing).

Can property developers zone and release land for tiny houses in Canberra?

BJ,
No there is no such land available as a separate lease, although some of the newer areas have some blocks that are down in the 200m2 range.

Theoretically developers could form blocks that small but I don’t see it as likely.

In the current format, tiny houses work best as the equivalent of a granny flat on an existing larger block.

Yes hopefully Government looks at providing a reasonable number of under 200sqm blocks for tiny house living.

I agree with the author on one aspect of the article that tiny houses in Canberra are more dream than reality.

Not everyone want to live in shoe boxed size apartment/high density housing, and there’s little else available, other than boxy townhouses that charge massive strata fees in return for vanilla living. An alternative where small parcels of land could be purchased for tiny houses with gardens would be a good option. Such an option would it offer scope to have a garden where apartments do not, and not be beholden to strata laws, fees and neighbours sharing a wall/roof etc.

Where in the ACT can a resident buy space to put a tiny house?

Also, Caravan Parks have shared bathroom facilities. I presume a tiny house in Canberra would need to comply with housing approval standards?

Now tell us how 5 bedroom houses with a pool are a human right.

For what it’s worth I agree… it’s always been baffling to me that these ‘houses’ are being touted as being hip and awesome… it’s just using words like ‘cosy’ to describe ‘cramped’. Yes it’s livable but let’s call a spade a spade…!

To a spoilt millennial, unaffordable housing means being unable to get a McMansion. But one doesn’t need a big house when they’ve sanctimoniously announced a rejection of bourgeoisie middle class, white, picket fence values and how they will save the planet by not having children.

Not really, unaffordable housing means being forced to buy an apartment, which loses value because of the glut of houses.
(I tried apartment, it’s not for me) It means having to attend auction after auction where 3 bedroom houses are selling for $600+. It means fighting against overseas investors and people who are buying their third or fourth house.

You older people had similar issues, but there was land to build more houses. Now a new block of land hits the market and its the size of an American pickup and costs $400,000.

Us millennials are REALLY spoilt aren’t we.

My comment was intended for the author, based on prior self-indulgent musings as well as those spoilt, impatient high-expectation millennial first home buyers. But not all millennials. I acknowledge your points as valid. Every generation faces challenges getting a house. But what you thankfully don’t have now are soul-crushing mortgage interest rate rises that got to 17%.

What kind of a house do you live in Zoya Patel? I love tiny houses. It’s a great way of living, provide a roof over someone’s head and serve a purpose.

I’d hate to hear what you think of the homeless or people in public housing if you think people living in caravans are of a lower class.

This article just shows an ignorance around why house prices are high and indeed urban planning in general.

Whilst there are definitely bigger factors that have led to unaffordable house prices, the provision of more housing options, like tiny houses, is a great way to create more affordable options in a constrained market. It allows a higher housing density to be provided in areas where large apartment blocks are not suitable or in-line with other development in the area.

You can’t just chuck in a 10storey+ building in a lower density area, but you can put in a tiny house with minimal impacts. These types of options provide greater housing flexibility and increased efficiency of land use.

I’m also miffed at the shade being thrown on caravans, which seems to reflect the author’s own prejudice and stereotypes rather than any objective view of the utility of them as housing options.

The “shade” being thrown at caravaners is misunderstood in your case. The author is referring to such places as the Eagle Hawk caravan park, the Southside Caravan park or the Narrabundah park. The parks where people live, not go on a holiday.
Stop being so sensitive.

Buzz,
I know exactly the type of places she’s talking about, and I still don’t get why she thinks these places are so bad, considering some of the alternatives.

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