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Tiny Homes & Accessory Dwelling Units – The Future of Housing?

With an ever-growing housing crisis in the United States, many Americans are struggling to find safe, affordable housing options. Those who cannot afford a home may opt for renting. However, that option carries a lot of unpredictability and instability. Over the last five years, cities like Phoenix, Arizona have seen as much as an 80% increase in rent prices. Many growing cities simply do not have the housing supply to accommodate the influx of newcomers, let alone their existing residents. Solutions to combat this crisis are desperately needed. While no single entity can solve this crisis alone, architects and builders can bring forth new housing typologies with the goal of efficiency and affordability for residents. This article presents an introductory look into tiny homes and Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), two housing “trends” that have spiked in popularity in recent years, and how they can potentially become part of the solution to the housing crisis.

Tiny Homes

We’ve all heard about the “tiny house movement” by now, and it’s no question that tiny homes have made a big impact on the design world. But how can tiny homes become part of the solution to the affordable housing crisis? Typically, a tiny house is defined as a structure that is under 600sqf, and many people associate this typology with mobility. Still, the rise of tiny house communities has proven that mobility is just a single aspect that can be associated with tiny homes, and not what defines them as such. In fact, mobile tiny homes may not be as accessible for those needing affordable housing, as there are added costs such as securing land and towing.

There are many benefits to tiny homes and tiny home communities at large. First, they are much more efficient than a typical single-family home and can reduce an individual’s carbon emissions by 70% over the course of its lifespan. They are also affordable, with the average price being just $52,000. The affordability and efficiency of tiny homes present a great opportunity to increase the supply of housing to benefit low-income and unhoused individuals. According to one study, the tiny house market is expected to grow by 3.33 billion dollars globally from 2021 to 2025.

Tiny Home Communities

As of 2019, there are 34 active tiny home communities in the United States, and one of these communities is located in Tempe, Arizona. Designed by coLAB studio, the Tempe Micro Estates are made up of thirteen 600sqf units situated around a community garden in Tempe’s Downtown Core. This development is the first of its kind in the area and showcases a design typology that is much needed in growing urban cities.

Micro Estates - Tempe, AZ

Heading northeast to Ohio is another tiny house community, known as Cedar Springs Tiny Village. This community provides the land at a monthly cost, and the resident must own their own tiny house to live there. This particular community offers lake views and plenty of walking and biking trails for its residents. While this community does charge to lease the site, they do offer a good array of amenities.

Cedar Springs Tiny Village - New Paris, OH

In areas of the state, like Columbus, where affordable housing is much more in demand, the story is much different. The state of Ohio currently requires houses to be 950sqf or larger, which by most standards does not meet the definition of a tiny home. Tiny homes on wheels, such as the ones that would be found at the Cedar Springs Village, are an exception because they are classified as travel trailers.

Accessory Dwelling Units

Another housing type is the Accessory Dwelling Unit or ADU for short. Many know these as guest suites, second units, or granny flats. What differentiates these from tiny houses is that they are always accompanied by a primary residence, hence the term “accessory.” They can be either attached to or detached from the main residence. Due to the rise of Euclidean zoning post WW2, the construction of these became difficult to accomplish, but with the growing housing crisis impacting many Americans, legislation is changing to reflect the need for solutions like ADUs. A benefit of ADUs is that they can be connected to the utilities of the primary dwelling, making them more cost-efficient. Similar to tiny homes, an ADU as a primary residence can reduce an individual’s carbon footprint significantly over its lifespan. Because of their affordability and efficiency as opposed to traditional single-family homes, ADUs are a realistic option for elderly family members or young adults just starting out in the workforce who want to be closer to home but still maintain their independence.

Companies that design and build ADUs are popping up all over the western part of the country because of the legislation in place that makes building ADUs much easier than in certain states. In growing cities like Phoenix, companies are figuring out ways to make these possible and jumping on the opportunity to expand upon the types of housing that are available in their current markets. Minimal Living Concepts is a company that designs and builds ADUs in the Phoenix area. They offer a wide range of concepts that can be built from a studio, all the way up to a three-bedroom home. They use traditional construction methods over prefabricated ones because this method is easily permitted and accepted by the city.

ADU Laws

Unfortunately, ADUs remain difficult to build in many states across the US due to the fact that there are laws prohibiting them. However, with the demand for housing being so high for particular areas, some cities are coming around to creating new laws or adjusting old laws to allow for ADUs in the community. In Phoenix, residents are allowed one ADU per single-family residence, and that structure must maintain the same address as the primary residence. In 2019, the City of Des Moines changed its zoning laws to allow the construction of ADUs in certain districts as well. Currently, many parts of Ohio restrict the addition of ADUs. However, this is likely to change as they become more widely accepted in other communities.

Final Thoughts

The housing crisis in the United States is pushing demand for housing typologies that present both efficiency and affordability. This presents designers, architects, and builders with the unique opportunity to confront a large issue that has impacted so many Americans. Design typologies like tiny homes and accessory dwelling units can be a viable part of the solution to this crisis. It is only a matter of time before you might see a tiny house village or accessory dwelling units popping up in your area!


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