I spent Saturday attending a Tiny House exhibition, and was very impressed by what I saw. Between homes built by professionals and those built by amateurs, and in all kinds of configurations, it was clear to me that tiny homes could be viable, attractive and affordable housing alternatives for many Americans for whom owning a full-size home (2500 square feet and waaay up is standard in an American home, versus 250-400 square feet for a tiny home) is too pricey or limiting.
In fact, the concept of tiny houses goes great with another new concept: The growing movement for Universal Basic Income. UBI, as promoted by advocates like Scott Santens, is a proposal to pay all citizens a monthly minimum income sufficient to live at a level above the national poverty level, leaving it up to them whether they will live on that or choose to work for a higher income. Various countries in Europe are already experimenting with UBI, and in the US the state of Alaska has developed a version of it. As job opportunities shrink in the US, UBI would allow citizens to live comfortably, even without a job, and would cost less than welfare and other existing poverty assistance programs.
Housing is a major element that can dictate its success, and the average American home may prove too expensive for those living on a UBI income. Fortunately, tiny homes can be bought for less money than most cars; and if you’re tool-handy and able to get some breaks on materials, you may even be able to build one yourself for $10,000 or less. Organizations are already taking advantage of this more manageable price level to build tiny homes for groups that need help, like veterans and the homeless. Millennials are also driving the developing tiny house industry, as they decide to live on less, avoid accumulating as much stuff, make mobility an option and have more discretionary income.
Those are strategies tailor-made for the idea of a Universal Basic Income nation. One of the biggest concerns the public has about UBI is whether it will truly be possible to live comfortably on a basic income. If minimally-expensive homes are readily available, the idea of UBI will be much more acceptable to the public. Presently there are few tiny houses available to buy… and many jurisdictions haven’t yet developed policies or regulations for tiny houses. But as the idea gains more traction (and, frankly, hopefully, loses its stigma as “trailer homes” for the poor), zoning regulations should change and opportunities to build tiny house communities should grow.
Projects like Second Wind Cottages, Quixote Village, OM Village and Community First! Village are proving the point. These tiny home villages are providing shelter to formerly homeless men, women and families, at an average cost of $10,000 a home… affordable even for those on low fixed incomes for whom full-sized homes and even rental properties were often out of the question. Residents in full-sized homes have been welcoming of their new neighbors, even where zoning efforts have initially resisted their arrival. Most importantly, having tiny homes gives the residents a sense of belonging, a measure of pride and greater safety than living on the street.
So, hopefully the Tiny House movement and the Universal Basic Income movement will see their common cause and the value of cross-promoting each other. I think the concept of UBI must be our country’s future: it makes financial sense, and it provides a workable future for the post-employment society that we are inevitably approaching. More manageable tiny homes would be a significant part of that future. That makes tiny homes and UBI a match made in heaven.