Looking to live differently? Opting to forego a traditional house or apartment for a home the size of a typical American living room would certainly be a change. If that sounds like heaven, consider a tiny house.
Tiny houses have no formal definition, but they are commonly classified as homes between 150 and 600 square feet, built as part of a do-it-yourself project or custom designed by a builder who specializes in them. They’re often built on trailers so they can be towed easily to their permanent spot or even to allow long-distance travel.
If the nomadic, portable life isn’t what intrigues you about the prospect of living in a tiny home, you may want to consider one of the tiny house communities throughout the U.S., which range from newly developed properties to well-established communities with long-term residents.
People choose to live in tiny homes for a variety of reasons, including maintaining a lower overall cost of living, being able to easily travel and opting for a minimalist, greener lifestyle. And where people embrace the tiny home life, communities tend to sprout up. Whether it's permanent settlements with property lines, RV parks meant for tiny houses or even short-term stays for residents who don’t own one, tiny house communities serve as designated spots for people to live without having to battle zoning restrictions or private and public land use laws.
“A lot of people look at tiny homes as second homes, or in the cases of disaster, a temporary home,” says Dan Dobrowolski, CEO of Escape Traveler, a tiny house building company that also runs two tiny house villages in the U.S.
Many tiny house communities are formed by nonprofit and charity organizations to provide housing and transitional options for homeless individuals. Other communities focus more on green or minimalist living, where people make a conscious choice to live in tiny homes over larger, permanent houses.
The versatility of tiny houses and their ability serve both personal preference and lower-cost need is what’s driving the surge in popularity of tiny homes, Dobrowolski says, who has seen the Escape Traveler building company continue to grow as more people look to purchase a tiny house. A tiny house can cost between $10,000 and $60,000 to build from scratch, compared to the median home price of more than $225,000, according to real estate information company Zillow. “It’s becoming more and more mainstream because people are seeing these … solve a lot of problems,” Dobrowolski says.
Here are six flourishing tiny house communities throughout the U.S.
Little River Escape
In the northwestern corner of Georgia, this gated community on Lookout Mountain is made up entirely of tiny houses. The property was founded by Ed Watters, who first learned about tiny houses in 2011 after having recently developed a retirement community in nearby Rome, Georgia, and was exploring more downsizing options for people as they retire, explains Sylvia Dickinson Brophy of Little River Escape. While many residents are retired and live there full time, the community also includes families with children who treat their tiny house as a vacation home. “We use river rock and gravel (on pathways), and that doesn’t really lend itself to strollers and wheelchairs. So you’ll be fine as long as you can carry your baby or use a cane,” says Dickinson Brophy, who notes that the community is considering paved pathways in some areas to help make it more handicapped accessible.
Airstream Park (Llamalopolis)
Las Vegas, Nevada
Downtown Las Vegas has possibly the most famous tiny house community in the U.S. Created by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, the community is the permanent home to Airstream trailers, tiny houses and a few alpacas. Hsieh transformed a parking lot he owned into the existing community as part of his efforts to revitalize the city's downtown. Guests can stay in some of the tiny houses and Airstream trailers short term, although many people live in the community permanently (by referral only, according to online reports), including Hsieh himself. Business Insider reported in 2016 that about 30 trailers and tiny houses make up the community. Being in the heart of Las Vegas also brings visitors to the community for reasons other than living the tiny lifestyle. The Airstream Park Facebook page shows corporate parties and concerts that are held on the grounds, while the free-roaming alpacas serve as an attraction to daily visitors.
About 45 miles northwest of Denver, WeeCasa is a tiny home resort for people looking to experience the lifestyle for a short period and also enjoy the local area at the edge of the Rocky Mountains. While WeeCasa owns many of the tiny houses on the property, others are contracted to WeeCasa to be rented out to guests. Karen Agena, director of WeeCasa in Lyons, explains that the resort was created following a local flood in 2013 that left many homes destroyed, with few short-term stay options for displaced families. The resort is particularly busy with wedding parties during the summer months, but it also serves to provide a glimpse into tiny living. Agena notes it brings many guests “who want to try it out and see if they could actually commit to it before buying a tiny home themselves.”
Tiny Homes Detroit
Created and operated by local charity organization Cass Community Social Services, Tiny Homes Detroit is a permanent tiny house community aimed at using the small size and cost of tiny homes to help resolve low-income housing needs. Those who occupy these tiny houses, funded through charitable donations, are formerly homeless, senior citizens or even low-income college students. The focus of Tiny Homes Detroit isn’t just about providing housing, which has been a part of the Cass Community Social Services program since it was founded in the 1980s, but also to provide tiny home recipients with a path to homeownership. “We were more concerned about helping people achieve the American dream,” says the Rev. Faith Fowler, executive director of Cass Community Social Services. Recipients pay $1 per square foot each month in rent while also attending a homeownership class, meeting with a financial coach and volunteering eight hours monthly for the organization. After seven years, the recipients earn the deed to their tiny house and the property it sits on, which Fowler valuates to be between $40,000 and $50,000, depending on future housing market changes. The tiny house community is currently growing, with seven completed and occupied homes, six near completion and six more ready to break ground, with a goal of 25 tiny houses total, Fowler says.
Canoe Bay Escape Village
Near Chetek, Wisconsin
Canoe Bay started out as a community of brick-and-mortar buildings on more than 300 acres on a lake in northwestern Wisconsin and has since expanded to include a community of tiny houses used as second homes, vacation rentals and short-term stays. Dobrowolski says most people who own a tiny house at Canoe Bay come on weekends or stick to seasonal visits, especially snowbirds who live in southern U.S. during the winter. Because the community is also associated with the tiny home builder Escape Traveler, the short-term rental option serves as an opportunity for people considering the tiny lifestyle – and an Escape Traveler tiny house in particular – before actually making a purchase.
Located on the Oregon coast, Tiny Tranquility launched in 2018 to offer nightly stays in the property's tiny houses, along with spaces for rent to park existing tiny houses and hook them up to available utilities. Like many tiny house communities, much of the focus at Tiny Tranquility is on easy access to outdoor attractions, including a dog park, picnic and fire pit area, greenhouse and hiking trails. While the community offers site lease agreements for as short as one month for nomadic tiny-house owners looking to move on, long-term lease agreements are also available for people looking to stay permanently.
She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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