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

Zoya Patel 11 November 2020 67
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.

READ ALSO: New architects head slams cookie-cutter planning in new suburbs

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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67 Responses to Let’s stop glamourising ‘tiny houses’, and demand better access to housing
Sandra Robertson Sandra Robertson 5:53 pm 13 Nov 20

tiny homes work well in USA as people can rent a patch of land , move on and stay as long as their agreement with land owner states... here in Oz we have those things called “ councils “ which prevent this plus EPA, DA and every other bit of red tape bureaucracy you can dream up... 😒

Graham Lees Graham Lees 4:07 pm 13 Nov 20

Luxury! My old mum raised fifteen children in a hole in the road! And we thought we were well off because it had running water! People these days don't know they're alive!

    Steve Mcmillan Steve Mcmillan 7:55 pm 14 Nov 20

    Graham Lees A Hole in the Road ? Luxury !

Robyn Brookes Robyn Brookes 2:18 pm 13 Nov 20


Hans Dimpel Hans Dimpel 6:55 am 13 Nov 20

high density housing might solve some problems but it causes other problems, as we have seen during the covid pandemic.

Lindsay Wyles Lindsay Wyles 11:29 pm 12 Nov 20

It’s a caravan. SIMPLE.

Tramcar Trev Tramcar Trev 10:44 pm 12 Nov 20

Ohhh wow... I have a caravan ergo I'm a low class citizen.... But its OK I enjoy my caravan irrespective of my societal status.

Sonia Dalitz Sonia Dalitz 10:27 pm 12 Nov 20

Exactly what I've been saying the past 5 years, it makes me uncomfortable when they're pitched as a solution-- it's not!

Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 9:35 pm 12 Nov 20

I would love to have had one of these as my first home, or even second of third home, after leaving my parent's house. My first home was a hostel room with a single bed, a hand basin, cupboard and chair. Shared facilities down the hallway. My second home was the same. My third home was a three bedroom house, shared with four others. How is the option of a tiny house worse than those? The first house I bought was 99 sq metres, which I shared with two other people (33 sq metres each in effect) to help pay the mortgage. Me thinks some people have a spoilt outlook.

Onelia Herriot Onelia Herriot 8:14 pm 12 Nov 20

Tiny houses generally are not cheap housing, especially if you have no where to put the home.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 7:58 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”.

    chewy14 chewy14 11:33 pm 12 Nov 20

    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.

    bj_ACT bj_ACT 11:42 am 13 Nov 20

    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?

    chewy14 chewy14 7:04 am 14 Nov 20

    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.

    bj_ACT bj_ACT 1:15 pm 16 Nov 20

    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.

Frank Walmsley Frank Walmsley 7:53 pm 12 Nov 20

This is one of the answers. So is an effective and efficient planning system that ensures people can get approvals to build a second dwelling in a reasonable time frame. Within the statutory time frames. Which rarley happens in Canberra

Kiam Moss Kiam Moss 6:59 pm 12 Nov 20

Amy Rodda interesting article for your cllass

Kylo Alto Kylo Alto 4:49 pm 12 Nov 20

Stop spending $18 on smashed avo on toast and you'll be able to afford a house. #generationwhinge

    Nate SeñorBra Boorella Nate SeñorBra Boorella 4:59 pm 12 Nov 20

    Put that Arts degree to better use and stop getting drunk and/or high all the time

    Al Robbo Al Robbo 7:13 pm 12 Nov 20

    Nate SeñorBra Boorella shut up and buy a home that's 10 times the average wage and paid off over 30 years.

    Nate SeñorBra Boorella Nate SeñorBra Boorella 7:16 pm 12 Nov 20

    Robbo Alex lucky interest rates are super low

    Dave Tod Dave Tod 8:21 pm 12 Nov 20

    Robbo Alex when I bought it was 4 times now its closer to 12 and that's 80km from the CBD.

    Al Robbo Al Robbo 5:36 am 13 Nov 20

    Nate SeñorBra Boorella you gotta save for a rainy day in case those rates hit 13% again!!

Stuart Mawbey Stuart Mawbey 4:19 pm 12 Nov 20

Zoya suggests that high density housing is a better solution. I've lived in high density housing, NSW Housing Commission, and it was bloody awful, just released ex crims bullying aged residents, neighbours screaming and fighting all hours, drug dealers, constant police presence, and yet its much better than being homeless. At least i was warm and dry and could lock my door, but i would have loved a garden. We dont have to all live in cities, a tiny house would be great on a bush block with a garden and a few pets. Same with caravans, some caravan parks are nicer than others and you can have a small garden and/or a pet. Pets are important to me. Ok, we might be poor, those of us that live in van parks permanently, but that doesnt mean you have to have barbaric values. A van in a beachside park or near a river could be very peaceful and blissful. Not everyone has the means to afford a McMansion in the suburbs, and I would rater live on a cheap bush block, tiny house or van, my dogs, no teeth, rocking in my chair sipping whisky.

    Ian Don Ian Don 5:53 pm 12 Nov 20

    you can do that, there are cheap places in the bush already. It is just that the majority of people want to live in the cities where housing is expensive. Tiny houses are not the answer there as the land is expensive.

    Stuart Mawbey Stuart Mawbey 6:18 pm 12 Nov 20

    Ian Don yes good point, and Zoya makes a few good points too, i was trying to emphasise how awful high density public housing can be.

Jo Holburn Jo Holburn 4:10 pm 12 Nov 20

Very faddish

Sean Bishop Sean Bishop 3:43 pm 12 Nov 20

But yet, having x8 40ft containers fitted together and built as a house is ok? Make up your mind

Liz Dovey Liz Dovey 3:33 pm 12 Nov 20

Why the stigma on tiny house living? Clever design can make living in small spaces a delight. They can be very suitable at different times of life. At different times when I was young I lived in a converted bus and in a converted shed and loved that I was able to be surrounded by bush rather than penned in a flat that I would have hated. It's not just about economics although obviously that's a factor.

GingerCat GingerCat 3:16 pm 12 Nov 20

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.

Zoe Cartwright Zoe Cartwright 2:35 pm 12 Nov 20

Really liked this article - I felt it was balanced. I don't think there's any problem with choosing to live in a tiny house or van, but the point of the article was that for many, it isn't a choice, it's the only affordable option. There are plenty of things that are tough to do in a tiny house or van that many people take for granted, like having a garden, pets or kids, or heck even just having some mates over (post-covid).

Nate SeñorBra Boorella Nate SeñorBra Boorella 2:31 pm 12 Nov 20

Still Better than renting

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