We often receive emails and calls from people who have suggestions on how to end the plight of homelessness in our city.

Recently, there have been many questions on whether we should look at the “tiny house” movement as an option for closing the housing affordability gap.

For the uninitiated, the movement advocates for living simpler in small homes — often less than 300 square feet.

These small homes are radically affordable to build, maintain, heat and cool, and many of them are built on a mobile platform for easy transportation.

Following the financial collapse in 2008, the movement gained in popularity among many middle-class Americans who needed to find a way to downsize, live on radically less than they did before and rebuild their lives.

But rather than a temporary solution, many of these tiny homes have become a permanent dwelling for people looking to lessen their debt burden and find affordable housing in competitive markets.

Others chose to live in tiny homes because they seek a more eco-friendly lifestyle, want to live mortgage-free or use them as a second residence.

While tiny homes are starting to become popular in Canada, they now constitute a significant industry in the U.S. where in no state can a minimum wage worker afford a two-bedroom unit at fair market rent without paying more than 30% of their pre-tax income.

Nonprofits, municipalities and the private sector have embraced tiny homes as a viable alternative to affordable housing.

In central Texas, a tiny house village called Community First! provides sustainable and supportive housing for people with disabilities.

In Oregon, SquareOne Villages creates self-managed communities of cost-effective tiny homes for people in need of housing. The homes are around 90 square feet, with a larger common building in the middle of the village that houses a kitchen and dining room. Every tenant pays $30 per month while working for the village at least 10 hours per week.

In Detroit, Cass Community Services are gearing up to build around 20 tiny homes to provide housing for people experiencing homelessness.

They will be affordable to rent, and long-term tenants will have the chance to earn the home outright by contributing to the community.

So can it work here? Can tiny houses be adapted in Winnipeg as an affordable housing solution — at least as a temporary solution between being housed and unhoused?

There’s a reason tiny homes are not used as social housing in Canada.

In our climate they could be considered cramped, would need to be heavily insulated, well heated and dry throughout our brutal winters. Utility services would also present problems and pad fees in most mobile home parks are $400.

But beyond the logistics of making tiny homes work here, they would not be a quick fix for homelessness and may in fact impede our progress.

If any investment is made in housing, it should flow to improving our current affordable housing stock and building up new stock.

However, that shouldn’t stop us from learning something about the movement — after all, most of us could all afford to live a little simpler and redirect some of our resources to strengthen our community.

— Floyd Perras is executive director of Siloam Mission.


Originally published
July 13, 2016
Floyd Perras – Winnipeg Sun