One of the persistent complaints in Vermont is the cost of housing, the quality thereof, and the property taxes that come with it. We talk about it. Endlessly. But we don’t do anything about it. Where’s the creative thought?
On Oct. 27 in the Mad River Valley there is what’s being called the Tiny House Fest, which is an event that is about “reimagining human spaces.” It’s part of a national movement focused on downsizing, which is part environmental, and part financial, and something being discovered in the big city and rural America alike.
Tempe, Arizona, for example, is trying to help solve its affordable housing problem by building an entire community of small homes - roughly 600-square feet per house. That’s about twice what a “tiny home” is in square footage, but about 25 percent of the footprint associated with the average American home. Tempe is building 12 of these homes on a single acre in just one of its developments.
And the homes are selling for a little over $100,000 and include a fully functional kitchen, a single bedroom, a bathroom, a living space and a patio. The target market is on both ends of the spectrum - either a starter home for a couple, or a spot for retirees.
Hmmm. Vermont has a higher percentage of retired folks than all but one state, and we’re trying to attract young families. Vermonters are generally thought of as environmentally attuned and fiscally prudent. We like a lot of open space. We appreciate the social benefit of close communities. Aren’t we the poster child for simple living?
If all this is true, is there a place for the small home community in Vermont?
What’s striking is how, as a nation, our housing needs have changed over the decades. Today, the average home size in the United States is 2,392 square feet [down from 2,521 in 2007.] In 1973, the average American home was 1,660 square feet. And back then, the average family size was 3.33 per household as compared to 2.53 today.
We also have more than a third of American households which are termed “cost-burdened”, meaning their housing costs are more than 30 percent of their total household income. Half of those who rent also give their landlords more than 30 percent of their household income each month.
If Vermont has an affordability problem, a weak inventory and poor housing quality then what creative thoughts are there to meet our needs other than the multi-unit apartment complexes, and the non-profit housing trust projects we have? If we have a worker shortage, and that shortage is tied to housing, then can bonding projects be put together that focus on housing stock for workers? And wouldn’t the small house market be an option worth exploring?
It would be encouraging, for once, to have our best and most creative minds figuring out ways to address housing needs that actually meet our real needs as a state.
Just a tiny little thought.