We received many questions about tiny houses recently in our website survey, on our social media and on the Community Workspace on Homelessness. This is the final part in our three-part Homeless Hub series on this topic. To catch up on the series, you can read part one and part two on this blog. 

Over the last two weeks, we have invited our readers to contribute to the conversation about the tiny housing movement and share their responses with us on Facebook, Twitter or the Community Workspace on Homelessness. It’s clear from the responses that there are both complimentary and contrasting opinions on the issue. Thank you to everyone who participated in the discussion. Below we share some of your thoughts.

@landrights4all (Twitter):

Chris Baulman, tweeting from @landrights4all, noted on Twitter that the tiny house movement is making authorities address land rights. Chris also linked to an article on the removal of tiny houses in L.A. As we mentioned in the previous blog post, Los Angeles has been at the forefront of the tiny house discussion in recent weeks. As a result of tiny houses being seized and impounded, the city and mayor have received backlash from the public, media and activists. This media response, though negative, has increased visibility of the lack of affordable housing, and as Chris noted, it is prompting authorities to address the issue.

Brian Grant (Community Workspace on Homelessness):

On the Workspace on Homelessness, a free online forum to discuss homelessness in Canada, Brian Grant suggested that private options for vulnerable single people looking to exit the shelter system, are limited. Most individuals enter shared accommodation arrangements. As a result, tiny houses offer an alternative and a sense of privacy that may not otherwise be available.

Brian Grant on the Workspace:

In my community, as far as I tell, there is absolutely no affordable housing that can be afforded by a poor vulnerable single person with Social Services single person shelter allowance. Here a single person looking to get out of the emergency shelters is pretty much forced into some kind of roommate or shared accommodation arrangement. 

Sharon Jessup Joyce (Twitter):

Tiny houses may not be a viable affordable housing option for everyone, as noted in part one of the blog series. As a result, a variety of alternatives should be considered. Sharon Jessup Joyce on Twitter added “we need more micro-apartments, homeshares and old-fashioned boarding houses”. In the same way that tiny houses are not an option for everyone, homeshares and boarding houses might be suitable for some but not others. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to affordable housing, but providing individuals with choice and greater agency can improve transitions out of homelessness. Individual circumstances of homelessness are unique, and as such we should allow for housing options to be unique too.

Werner Hofstatter (Community Workspace on Homelessness):

Werner Hofstatter shared the example of “Dignity Village”, a successful tiny house community in Portland Oregon.

Werner Hofstatter on the Workspace:

"Dignity Village" is the best example we have seen yet of tiny houses being used to address the physical, emotional and social needs of people who are homeless or at risk of being homeless.

To provide further insight on the role of tiny house communities we spoke with Eric Weissman, a research expert in the area of tiny houses and author of “Dignity in Exile”, an ethnographic account of life in Dignity Village.

Eric Weissman, Ph.D:

In terms of physical, emotional and social needs, Weissman notes that having a private structure or sharing it with a partner is fundamental to a person’s sense of dignity and inclusion: “it’s not just the fulfillment of a material need for housing, but having an inner sanctum, a structure, like other people’s, that is part of a community of other structures, is the essence of belonging.”

“Dignity Village and places like it are forms of rapid rehousing, and in many ways function like Housing First Programs,” Weissman points out. In order for these communities to be successful, they need to provide stability, harm reduction and access to necessary supports similar to Housing First models.

Tiny houses are safer and cleaner than the streets, according to Weissman, and provide people with a sense of self-efficacy “…through the building and self-governance that most of these places provide.” Tiny house communities provide the anchorage for actual communities because “they are bound – literally by foundations and structure – to physical locations.”

Weissman also argues that small housing structures, such as trailer parks are not uncommon: “in Canada many people live in trailers and double-wides, and these are forms of micro housing.” He also stresses the distinction between tiny houses built independently and communities like ‘Dignity Village’, as was mentioned in part two of this series: 

On the other end are well-financed micro-homes, which appeal to conventional wisdom and growing environmental sentimentality. Somewhere on that continuum is where the debate over the role of alternative places for the poor will be fought.

This blog post concludes our tiny house series, but the wider conversation on tiny houses is far from over. Looking at the responses from readers and researchers, it’s clear that tiny houses present opportunities and challenges. Tiny houses are not, as we mentioned previously, a “quick fix for homelessness or a lack of affordable housing.” But the rising discourse around the movement does tell us one thing. The tiny house movement indicates that individuals and communities are rightfully demanding better, and quicker solutions to a lack of affordable housing. It remains to be seen in what form, or square footage, those solutions will be realized.

Although our series is over, the discussion will continue on the Community Workspace on Homelessness, an online forum to discuss homelessness in Canada. Register for the Workspace and join us in the tiny houses discussion thread.

This post is part of our Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at thehub@edu.yorku.ca and we will provide a research-based answer.