— Tiny homes offer potential housing solutions in the Panhandle.
Since the 1980s, housing has ballooned in square footage. For growing families, the standard 2,200-square-foot house may be a necessity for now. However, that range is pricing many locals out of affordable options.
When comparing overall TCO (total cost of ownership), a mortgage, property tax increases, bigger utility bills, and annual maintenance requirements cause monthly costs to really add up. For those stretching dollars between food and housing, or medical needs, these costs are prohibitive.
That’s where tiny home communities can offer unique housing solutions.
Housing challenges are many. For instance, natural disaster victims, the homeless, vets, or seniors living alone needing smaller homes are but a few of those who benefit from tiny living options. For those folks, purchasing a big house with a big price tag is not feasible. Renovating an existing home is generally out of reach as well. But tiny homes offer solutions where typical housing does not.
Still active retirees and Millennials are already fans of the tiny home movement. They are choosing financial and emotional freedom, a greener lifestyle, and the satisfaction of building one’s own refuge. These new communities are incorporating a co-op lifestyle and a sense of belonging, complete with common spaces and gardens. Master plans as small as six acres to twenty-seven acres incorporate mixed-lease and purchase options. Because most of these homes are built on platforms, they’re set aside as RV parks, with some lots being sold on fixed foundations. These sustainable villages offer a well-maintained and deliberate appearance. The key to their success is that they were created as deliberate communities, with a set of building codes designed around tiny house living.
Consider the Panhandle
Seniors in the Eastern Panhandle over the age of 65 make up over 16 percent of the population, and over 23 percent collectively receive some level of social assistance—according to latest census reports for West Virginia. Finding tiny home solutions could save thousands of dollars and create a win-win for those stretching fixed monthly incomes.
Developing a tiny home community here whose average home size ranges from 200-500 square feet, built on a fixed foundation or trailer, with costs under $100K—odds are, it would be a sellout. Rentals and lots to lease for those needing to rent affordably, and for folks that want to trailer their tiny homes for mobility, would be a requirement. Passive solar, sustainable building materials, and other renewables would further enhance affordability.
Natural Disaster Victims
Tiny home communities could definitely set a precedent, especially here in the Panhandle, by providing more permanent living solutions and not just temporary housing. In fact, two schools in West Virginia have already participated in building out tiny homes for the flood victims of Charleston (WV) over a year ago. James Rumsey (Hedgesville) and Carver Career and Tech Center (Charleston) built temporary tiny home shelters for delivery to the flood victims for a build cost around $20,000 for an 8’ x 12’ home.
Building Tiny for the Homeless
A homeless tiny community in Austin, Texas, sits on a 27-acre parcel within a master-planned development that provides permanent housing for the disabled and homeless. This village, of course, is part of larger infrastructure to help house, employ, and provide full services to the homeless. This community, the “Community First Village,” is a showcase for addressing homeless needs.
A senior village community in Arizona, Luxtiny, built on a master plan of six acres, includes 45 spaces—with walking paths in the common area and a garden. Houses run from 162-400 square feet. Leases run around $360/month, and include water, sewer, and trash (local costs here may vary). Floor plans are one level.
Seniors and the elderly have a particular challenge financially because many are on fixed incomes. The standard offering most available today is senior apartments and senior living communities. These are great, but not suitable for everyone. Cost, for one thing, can be hefty. Some wish to be closer to family, and many may be living alone without a partner.
Placing tiny homes next to a family member’s home is a great option for the elderly—if associations allow the additional house on an existing property, or the family has acreage to include the tiny home.
A senior village offers a great alternative, and because tiny homes are built on a platform, they can be moved at any time when necessary. Floor plans at 400 square feet allow for one-story living with bedrooms convenient to the living area, and no lofts necessary.
Explore Options and Costs
There is a plethora of local information for these homes and communities—with builders close by in D.C., Berryville (VA), Oakland (MD), Fredericksburg (VA), and Lancaster County (PA)—easily found on www.tinyhousecommunity.com. Use the drop-down menu to find builders across the states.
Options are virtually limitless for curb appeal and floor plans. Most homes range from $25K-$88K and average around 200-400 square feet. You can also build your own tiny home—where pricing varies wildly ($4,000) depending on materials, square footage, mobility (trailer), and if you have a lot or land available.
For information on researching materials and building regulations and codes across the states, visit www.americantinyhouseassociation.org. West Virginia has not addressed this as of yet. Because most of these are RV parks, regulations are not as stringent as big developments.
Local Options and Roadblocks
According to one builder in Jefferson County, Al Cobb, who built a tiny building in 2015 in Shenandoah Junction, building a tiny home in the Panhandle has become problematic. West Virginia still follows the standard IRC building code, which is for homes built on foundations and over a certain square footage. No codes have been adopted to allow the creation of these tiny home villages or communities.
Although Cobb receives at least one call a week for a tiny home, he says another big issue is the cost per square foot of general contractors and the trades—for plumbing, electrical, and solar. Unless you can jump in and help build your own house, to lower the cost, or, find a quantity builder of tiny homes, costs will be higher here.
Many Eastern Panhandlers, including Al Cobb, agree that setting aside designated land for the purpose of these communities would be a boon for folks in the Mountain State. But it’s going to take some effort to get the codes in place. Perhaps the American Tiny House Association can help.By Diane Whitacre