This month the BC Tiny House Collective has catapulted into the homes of Canadians. On January 15, 2017, Frances Bula, a long-time affordable housing advocate, wrote on the collective and its tiny house goals in The Globe and Mail. Since then, we’ve had a flurry of media requests and coverage.
It’s been a ride.
Our social media numbers got a jump start. Requests from volunteers to join the collective soared. As a communicator, you couldn’t wish for more. But it left us scurrying to create new flows and systems and to develop communication plans sooner than anticipated. It got us shifting inwards at processing and updating media lists to ensure our message didn’t go away once the big fish left the pond. The joys of grassroots (genuine smile).
The online comments also showed us the less than enthused. The ones who think we’re drinking Kool-Aid and have no sense of the full picture. Tiny houses aren’t for everyone, and yet we were inundated with sharp tongues on how blind we are to the elephants in the room. Tiny is an unaffordable farce. A reaction to foreign investment in our cities. We must squash immigration. (Sound oddly familiar?) Or that this is a millennial crisis of identity; how dare we impose our minimalist ways on the average homeowner! A tinylife.com survey out of the US in 2013 revealed that more than 50% of tiny homeowners are women in their 50s; a more recent one in 2015 shows the number jumping to 64%. It’s not a youth movement; it’s for anyone who chooses the built form and the lifestyle that goes along with it.
If anything, I got reeducated on how divided we are when it comes to housing. And that most of us don’t understand the system in which homes exist. It’s complicated, overly complex and in desperate need of an overhaul. That, and cities often are doing innovative things, looking for solutions, but failing to communicate their efforts to the public or even their main stakeholders. And as a collective, we aren’t opposed to naysayers. We invite the criticism. It only empowers us to navigate the hurdles more swiftly and highlight the pluses over the minuses. There is no such thing as a perfect city.
Still, it gets me thinking of our piece in the Vancouver Courier, and how it did a great job of rooting Samantha (co-founder and soon-to-be tiny homeowner) and me as advocates for diverse housing stock, and as fully aware of the barriers and opportunities to tiny living. We are more than supporters of small houses, we are for inclusive communities—ones founded on the principles of social inclusion and wellbeing, of affordability and collaboration and ecological sustainability. This is more than a cheaper box on wheels. It’s a different way to build and live, whether that be on unused lots or lovely pre-owned land. It’s about opportunities and seeing beyond the pink elephants to envision housing as a choice and a right, and part of a greater system.
And so what’s next?
Pilots, research and engagement. Pilots, research and engagement. Pilots, research and engagement. Refine and repeat. Pilots, research and engagement.
We submitted a pilot proposal with the City of Vancouver to park Sam’s tiny house on a proposed site. So we wait patiently, seeking partnership with planners and decision-makers. We are also engaging with the False Creek Flats advisory team and planners along the Arbutus Greenway corridor. Perhaps a tiny house pilot could be positioned in those areas, as demonstration units? As urban/community garden caretaker suites? We’re explorers after all. We’ll find a way.
On January 24, 2017 we brought key stakeholders and UBC civil engineering students to co-design the content of several feasibility reports on tiny houses. These studies will explore tiny through a construction management lens, and focus on:
- net zero/sustainable tiny homes
- tiny and solar/renewable energy
- the use of deconstructed/wasted building materials in tiny construction
- tiny houses as single units for diverse populations and mobility needs, and lastly
- a tiny house pocket village or community (with multiple tiny house units on a shared lot).
While our definition of a tiny house makes it less than 500 square feet and moveable, we are also exploring tiny homes on temporary and permanent foundations. City staff from Richmond, Langley, Langley Township and Vancouver, planners, engineers and architects attended. We are excited to see what tiny house opportunities these reports will showcase; they will be publicly shared in early spring 2017. (For meeting minutes, click here.)
The BCTHC is also in the starting phases of culling partners to explore the financing of tiny houses, including lending, tenure models, land value and tiny home appraisals/insurance. We also applied to a BC Housing/Homeowner Protection Office grant to develop a tiny house building/construction code amendment, to include in our provincial code; winners will be announced in April.
We were invited to attend the City of Vancouver’s stakeholder workshop on January 31, 2017; the session spoke to the missing middle, in terms of built forms and those pushed out of the housing market in our city. How could we collectively address our needs for new stock? City Hive, a youth initiative focused on bringing fresh voices to civic affairs, said it best. We need bold leadership and greater engagement between cities, stakeholders and the public, identifying what’s being done and how we can get involved. There’s hope.
On February 7th, in partnership with BCIT’s High Performance Building Lab, the collective is co-hosting a lunch and learn session, including a tiny house tour of Samantha’s 320 square foot tiny home, followed by a panel discussion on small/tiny house construction and sustainability with invited guests Smallworks, Vancouver Tiny House and the City of Vancouver.
In the spring, we are planning a one-day tiny house showcase at UBC, and then in May, an exhibit at Science World. We hope to incorporate a community barn-raising using deconstructed and wasted building materials and innovative local upcycled designs and green tech in our most sustainable tiny house design, as part of our research with Emily Carr University of Art + Design industrial design student Callahan Tufts. If you’d like to join the exhibit as a partner or sponsor, please email me.
And of course, we rely on you! We’re inviting new and old volunteers, and anyone interested in our next steps, to join us on February 20 at CityStudio for our first volunteer slash general meeting combo of 2017. Learn more about the collective, and how your efforts can bring tiny houses to our region faster than ever imagined. We’re also running our tiny house survey until the end of March, so please fill it out and share. Data will be shared with local municipalities. We already have over 1200 respondents and support for tiny is in the 90s!
We thank you for your continued support and for the naysaying too. We’re happy to see both sides of the coin; it only makes our arguments for greater diversity in built form, tenure and homeownership that much stronger.
Anastasia Koutalianos is a writer/editor and communications strategist, and the co-founder of the BC Tiny House Collective, along with tiny homeowner to-be Samantha Gambling.