August 9, 2014

Tiny-house-ism.



I'm not buying the extreme libertarianism of this video, but I'm interested in the design of tiny houses, and the video is well made and presents a topic worth discussing.

63 comments:

Anonymous said...

Tiny money, tiny house.

Birkel said...

Many people would do better to live in separate units, on land personally owned, than in impersonal multi-unit places.

The point is ownership encourages better management and care.

Ann Althouse said...

But with no zoning, you have a trailer park next door.

Birkel said...

What is wrong with a trailer park, Althouse?

jimbino said...

"Extreme libertarianism" sounds like one of those oxymorons like "enlightened liberal."

Trailer park next door? Better than having dog owners next door.

virgil xenophon said...

The point in the vid that economics dictates the reason that one won't find commercial properties in up-scale suburban neighborhoods is a very real one, e.g., take body-shops. Upscale types have second cars and/or can afford rentals so they can take their cars to be worked on to places miles away in commercial districts. People in poor/working-class blue-collar neighborhoods by contrast need body-shops at the end of the block so they can walk-home after they drop the car off and walk back to retrieve it when it is fixed. No body shops in River Oaks, Houston,. OTOH, Pasadena? lol. (Ps: Ever been there? Hard to read the street signs as they've all but been obliterated by the acidic air throw-off from all the petro-chemical factories, etc., near-by, lol)

Indigo Red said...

I have a trailer park next door and zoning put it there. It's a nice place with nice people and nice homes.

Have you seen modern trailers? They're called mobile homes now and come with all the amenities as McMansions have. They even have Greek Revival front porch columns if you're of that bent.

The Godfather said...

I wouldn't call the message of this video extreme libertarian, any more than I would call the zoning regime in Washington, DC extreme statism. Better to take a pragmatic approach and judge each approach by its results.

I lived in and around Washington for 33 years. My law practice didn't focus on primarily on land use issues, but they did come up from time to time. Most of my zoning work was pro bono for non-profit organizations that wanted to locate a facility (a medical clinic for the poor, a shelter for the homeless, a training center for the unemployed) in a place where the neighbors (NIMBYs -- "not in my back yard") used zoning laws to try to stop these efforts. We usually prevailed, but these disputes cost money and time for the nonprofits.

If your goal is to encourage a desirable physical environment in your city or town, you may reasonably fear that this goal will not necessarily be furthered by the unfettered decisions of individuals and companies following their own private desires. On the other hand, zoning is, at best, an imperfect tool to achieve your goal, and may in fact impede it. If you aren't sure which way to go, the tie-breaker might be to realize that doing away with zoning will put a lot of lawyers and planners out of work.

Magson said...

In re: Trailer parks next door:

Trailer Homes Aren't Just for Millionaires

traditionalguy said...

The governance industry is nobly expanding its multi-layered Bureaucracies into any area that can justify high sounding but stupid restrictions that require professional mitigation plans for non-existent threats followed up by insane actions that only win a permits and final inspection approval IF you hire the correct people for huge fees.

In Atlanta it is one of our blatant under the table Racial Reparations Programs.

Popville said...

You should follow this blog by Shelter/Whole Earth Catalog builder/writer Lloyd Kahn & his son.

http://www.theshelterblog.com/

His "Tiny Homes" book from ~2.5 years ago put the trend on the map. And this summer his "Tiny Homes On the Move" covers the mobility versions.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Whaddaya mean, "extreme libertarianism," Ann? It seems entirely centrist and sane to me.

Having lived in Berkeley for a time, I know exactly what the architect is talking about.

gadfly said...

Ann Althouse sez:

"But with no zoning, you have a trailer park next door."

Bad assumption because economics keeps Bill Clinton's favorite people away from nice neighborhoods. Land prices are dictated by the value of the surrounding properties, so Bubba will have to look a little further out next to the railroad tracks and the oil refinery or next to an East Texas swamp to find cheap land to use for trailer park sites.

Birkel said...

In RE: Trailer parks

I find it hilarious that anybody would think trailer parks would suddenly predominate anywhere. Would so many people prefer trailers that every neighborhood would suddenly have one "next door" to every house in America? If that is true, why have Liberals abandoned the "freedom to choose" the things that fit such a majority of Americans' hopes and dreams over the goals of central planning.

Althouse, please explain what you meant when you wrote "But with no zoning, you have a trailer park next door."

I would love to know how that fits your definition of liberalism.

LOL

gadfly said...

A better kind of urban renewal has come to Washington DC.

You can often see the maldistribution of Washington’s riches block by block—even on the same block, row house by row house—as young, well-to-do high achievers move into neighborhoods that real estate agents label hot, buying up properties, planting flower boxes and tending little squares of lawn behind wrought-iron fences, next to an abandoned building or a vacant lot or a home where a fatherless family is just scraping by. Most ├╝ber-­Washingtonians say they like the urban grit. The crime and decay amid the plenty, says local activist Danny Harris, “are the price you pay if you want to live in an urban environment.” The disequilibrium especially bothers Harris, he says, when it signals a civic detachment among his fellow young strivers. “You can have people who know every nuance of our policy toward Burma,” he says, “but they don’t know the name of the public school down the block.”

virgil xenophon said...

Anyone who wants a good discussion of "urban planning" (everything from transportation to housing and everything in between) and zoning laws or lack thereof should hit the website "The Antiplanner" by a former planning guy (Randal O'Tool) who lives in Seattle. Mostly populated by professional/academic types and a smattering of "civilians" the repartee between Randal and his planning critics can get quite "feisty." But VERY enlightening concerning these matters..

LYNNDH said...

Hey when I got out of the Navy in 1970 we had a trailer. My wife lived in it while I was on a Med Cruise and she when to Grad school. We traded in it for a new one, a 14ft wide, 70 long, 2 bedroom HOME. Nothing wrong with Mobile Homes, just people that look down on them, Ann.

Leora said...

Houston has plenty of planned neighborhoods where restrictive covenants that are part of deed restrict land usage. In many ways these are more protective than zoning regulations which can be appealed and waived in most jurisdictions with restricted input from neighbors. The idea that centrally administered bureaucracies in dense areas will make the best decisions about land use for the current owners does not seem to be borne out in large cities (I'm thinking Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn or the Miami waterfront here). I am strongly in favor of neighborhood control of such decisions, but most large American cities let developers buy what they want without much concern for the current owners. Zoning does seem to work well in smaller jurisdictions.

Chip said...

Nothing wrong trailer parks, Ann. Those are just houses, where people -- some would call them "neighbors" -- live. And if you really don't like them, nothing prevents you from living in a private residential lot where restrictive covenants are enforced by contract.

This is far from "extreme libertarianism," in any case. I'm beginning to think you are a silly person.

ddh said...

Zoning does raise the cost of land by restricting its use, thereby hurting the ability of the poor to find affordable housing near their jobs. Then liberals say we need to set the minimum wage at $15 an hour during a recession, which would lead to low-wage workers being replaced by automation. Fewer low-wage jobs, and the lower class moves out, and the gentry move in.

The process ends up making San Francisco and Northwest DC more and more like a gated community of upper-middle class hipsters.

Roger von Oech said...

"But with no zoning, you could have a trailer park next door."

Check your privilege, Ann!

LOL

Birkel said...

"Check your privilege, Ann"

I think Professor Althouse's comment means she has checked her privilege and found it appealing. That we find it wanting is of no matter.

Chance said...

It's all fun and games until you put the strip joint in the residential neighborhood. Good times!

Although, despite all the supposed regulations, this situation did exist in NW DC circa 2010. There is nothing quite like walking home from work and seeing the dancers on their smoke breaks out front.

Donna B. said...

A trailer house next door. Oh MY!

Actually, I do think trailer house communities should cluster, it's just that I don't think trailer houses are bad, per se.

The problem is that they are associated with "poor white trash" and, at least where I live, that means that black leaders would rather see poor black people live in leaky, falling-down shacks than in trailer houses... because... trash? white? I'm not sure.

And I am basing that opinion on an actual event. A donation of a substantial number (10,IIRC) of trailer houses was refused because they are associated with "poor white trash" or... white ghettos.

Perhaps that also partly explains why I saw hundreds of FEMA trailer houses rotting in a field near Hope AR after Hurricane Katrina.

I'm pretty sure I qualify as poor white trash -- genealogically verified. Yet... there's something about living in a trailer in a trailer park that is just plain nice. Sewer systems, regular trash pickup, washing machines, dryers, dishwashers standard.

It is what you make of it.

rcommal said...

But with no zoning, you have a trailer park next door.

Not necessarily, and certainly not by definition.

rcommal said...

But with no zoning, you have a trailer park next door.

Therein ^, I think that Althouse is putting forth a proposition.

Perhaps that is a challenge (and not so much a position).

John henry said...

With no zoning you have nothing to worry about with trailers next door if you have an HOA and deeded covenants as to what can be built.

This approach allows the homeowners, not the govt, to decide what can be built.

Politicians can't be bought off as they can with zoning.

Let the market decide. Worried about trailers? Move into a neighborhood where they are prohibited by voluntary contract.

Zoning laws can be changed. They can be changed without the affected people even being informed. Ditto waivers.

Covenants, once in place, are almost impossible to change and easier to enforce than zoning.

John Henry

Humperdink said...

I recall many, many years years ago, I poked fun at someone because they lived in a trailer park. My father-in-law looked at me and said: "Maybe that's all they can afford".

I felt like such a heel. I never forgot that deserved comeuppance.

rcommal said...

Amen, Humperdink.

tim maguire said...

The main problem with zoning is that it codifies misuse of land, wastes resources, and prevents communities from responding to changing needs. All in the name of fighting off bogeymen like trailer parks next door.

Rusty said...

People not of your social/economic strata have to live somewhere, Althouse.

Unknown said...

Good to see Reason looking at things other than drugs and same sex marriage. And yes, DC is very expensive, because so many people move here for jobs that exist because of a huge federal state.

MarkW said...

"With no zoning you have nothing to worry about with trailers next door if you have an HOA and deeded covenants as to what can be built."

I hear you, but practically speaking, people living in HOA controlled neighborhoods tend to have much less freedom to experiment with their houses than those living in zoned cities. I live in the middle of Ann Arbor, which is much more like Berkeley than a libertarian nirvana. But I could paint my house any damn color I wanted (or even convert it from shingle-style to Le Corbusier-style modern -- in fact there are a couple of mid-centry moderns on my block). I could put a shed or children's playset out back and park a camper or boat in my driveway if I felt like it. I could plant a mini-prairie full of wildflowers instead of a lawn (actually, as it is, we have a patch of woods out front rather than a front yard). Most of the HOAs in the area would forbid or strictly regulate all of these things.

Ann Althouse said...

Look, if you buy a house in a nice neighborhood, you don't accept the spaces getting filled in with small units on wheels.

There's nothing wrong with tiny houses -- as I've said -- I like them. The problem is putting them where they don't belong.

These cute houses like the ones in the video are being used to overcome resistance to infill houses in neighborhoods where people moved because of a particular look to the place.

The video I embedded is propaganda.

Ann Althouse said...

BTW, the wheels can be used to avoid paying property taxes, so it's not fair to the homeowners that there is a secondary population not paying taxes.

Ann Althouse said...

"I recall many, many years years ago, I poked fun at someone because they lived in a trailer park. My father-in-law looked at me and said: "Maybe that's all they can afford.""

1. I'm not making fun of people who have less money.

2. Cheap housing can be built to look good and to be sensitive to the surrounding neighborhoods. I'm not going to say trailer parks are fine because some people can't afford something more expensive, because something equally cheap or cheaper could be more beautiful and more neighborly.

mesquito said...

I live in less than 400 square feet but I have a good chunk of acreage. What I want to know is, where do these people put their damn stuff?

Humperdink said...

Ann said: "But with no zoning, you have a trailer park next door."

James Carville said: "Drag a $100 bill through a trailer camp and there's no telling what you will find."

Your comment is not as negative as the Clinton shill's, but neither comment could be construed as a compliment to trailer park dwellers.





Meade said...

With no zoning, you might have people like James Carville dragging hundred dollar bills through a trailer camp next door.

Ann Althouse said...

I wish someone could go in an put an infill comment in that space Humperdink left in his comment.

My topic is respect for the spaces that you share with others, and your comment is an object lesson.

Rusty said...


2. Cheap housing can be built to look good and to be sensitive to the surrounding neighborhoods. I'm not going to say trailer parks are fine because some people can't afford something more expensive, because something equally cheap or cheaper could be more beautiful and more neighborly.

So it's not money, but aesthetics. As long as it looks good. Who gets to decide what looks good?

Anonymous said...

Trailer parks are, for obvious reasons, going to put on cheap land. For equally obvious reasons, this is not likely to be found in an expensive neighborhood.

Anyway, the Reason position on zoning is not nearly as radically libertarian as the Althouse position on abortion. If individuals can be trusted to make their own decisions on something as momentous as existence, meaning, the universe, and the mystery of human life, there's no point in getting all shivery over the possibility that they might make the wrong decision about whether a house trailer belongs in University Heights.

Meade said...

"[T]here's no point in getting all shivery over the possibility that they might make the wrong decision about whether a house trailer belongs in University Heights."

Still, an abortion doctor cannot advise his client to bury her mistake in vines.

CStanley said...

Seems pretty ugly to think that the poor should make their homes prettier to please the aesthetic sensibilities of the rich.

Paul Z at 8:38 expresses what I think even before I realized I was thinking it. Moral environment is just as important to me as is the physical aesthetic environment.

And Meade's follow up...I can't decide if he's kidding. Every single professional interaction between an abortion doctor and his patients involves the advice to bury her "mistakes".

HT said...

1000 new residents every month (DC). I had heard that is no longer true.

There's also another point of view that cities such as Vancouver as full of zombie towers, where a lot of foreigners have parked their assets free from detection and taxation, are behind a building boom. To what extent if at all this is happening here in DC I do not know. I suspect to some extent it is true.

I live in a building and it's getting to the point where the majority of residents are not the owners any longer. So what I am always trying to drive home is how degrading to community the current greed boom is.

I also love looking at tiny houses and tiny things.

Here in DC, just lost a decent Dir of Planning, Harriet Tregoning (not featured well by Reason TV but who cares), though I disagreed with her on a lot of things. Overall, she was dynamic and smart and had vision.

Wow, this is a long video, am I supposed to watch the whole thing??

In general I am skeptical of things like micro apartments and the reason is that for cities to grow with integrity, we need families. Micro apartments skip right over a better solution, IMO and that is better-designed more efficient apartments and, uh, houses. Not efficiencies necessarily, but just better design. Although it's not an official position of any political party that I know of, I often worry that things like micro apartments and to a lesser extent tiny houses for Americans are a little bit degrading of spirit. I mean, I just don't think we are there yet. One thing that I do like about the tiny houses in this vid is the idea of preserving SUNLIGHT. I am not convinced that Reason TV's utopia of Houston would work in cities where people actually want to live. (Sorry Houston - but like the worst hot time in New Orleans, it's like living underneath the outdoor part of an a/c window unit with hot nasty air and a regular drip coming down on you.)

Houston being more affordable than other sunbelt cities. It's BECAUSE IT'S HOUSTON. It's hotter, it's nastier and it's probably sprawlier though Atlanta is a hot nightmare too in that regard.

Lastly, WHERE ARE THOSE HOUSES????? I wanna go see.

Each city has its unique issues, challenges and benefits. I am not sure that one way would work well everywhere. Joseph Stiglitz says something similar in a video - that sometimes privatization works, sometimes it makes no difference (Korea and oil) and sometimes it is worse. It all depends. Washington's unique challenge (not a recent one as the 'NIMBY'-epithet-flinging bloggers would have us believe) is balancing the needs of the poor, the needs of the longtimers some of whom are poor, and the needs of the new arrivals most who are young, some of whom are from wealthy families and some of whom are not. Washington is a very transient city, and this challenge is not faced everywhere. I imagine Houston is a place where it's not an issue, though I don't know for sure.

John henry said...

people living in HOA controlled neighborhoods tend to have much less freedom to experiment with their houses

Some people view that as a bug, others as a feature.

In any event, it is a matter of choice. The covenenants are in place when you buy the house. If you don't like them, if you think you might want to paint your house purple and the covenants specify white, buy somewhere else.

As I mentioned, covenants are very difficult to change. By-laws are much easier. All it requires is a majority at the annual meeting.

You and your neighbors get to decide on them. Not the entire city. Not some zoning board which likely has other interests than you do. Not folks who live across town and know nothing of your neighborhood.

You and your neighbors control it by majority vote. Direct democracy in action at the lowest possible level. Who could object to that?

John Henry

John henry said...

As an example, our neighborhood has a number of vacant lots. We are zoned residential.

In May, a developer started building a 30 unit condo on two lots. As long as he stays within a certain height (12 meters or 3 stories) and a certain density, he can get a building permit without notifying anyone at all. First we knew about it was when the bulldozers started work.

Local law is that building permits require notification/hearings etc only when a variance is needed. None was needed here.

However, all lots are covenanted as permitting only 1 single family house. That is what has allowed us to stop the project. Not zoning.

So Ann, I seem to recall that you live in a townhouse. Are there covenants that dictate what can be done in the development? Would they prevent a trailer park going up next door?

John Henry

Birkel said...

Althouse:
"1. I'm not making fun of people who have less money."

Left unsaid:
I'm just saying that they have to live in a building that is aesthetically pleasing to me or live further away so that they have to spend more of their time/money for travel to get to work.

Meanwhile, the idea that some people don't pay property taxes because their homes have wheels and that is unfair is, to be kind, stupid. Property taxes support schools and not everybody has kids. Taxes distort behavior. Deal with it. But you can't then pretend that the distorted behavior is somehow the fault of the people who are rationally responding to incentives.

Pass a law. Behavior changes.
Pass another law to capture the changed behavior. Behavior changes again.
Rinse.
Repeat.
Change that one last law. People move.
And now you have Detroit.

Anonymous said...

I am not convinced that Reason TV's utopia of Houston would work in cities where people actually want to live.

That's why we drove 2.2 million people there at swordpoint-- so we wouldn't have to find out.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Ann,

These cute houses like the ones in the video are being used to overcome resistance to infill houses in neighborhoods where people moved because of a particular look to the place.

"Resistance to infill houses" ought to have been the lede. People -- some people -- don't like there to be more folk living on a given block than God intended; for one thing, it plays merry hell with the parking. Therefore, ban infill houses (or "in-law units," as they're known in SF, where a decades-long continuous crackdown seems still not to have eliminated them all).

Do you live where you do now because of "a particular look to the place"? One that might be spoilt by the odd tiny house or two?

Anonymous said...

I should point out that I don't necessarily disagree with Althouse's conclusion about abortion; at the moment I'm just pointing out that the route by which she gets there is too libertarian even for most libertarians.

Anonymous said...

I've toured the Meadehouse neighborhood in Google Earth (it has a Frank Lloyd Wright house in it, as well as a Louis Sullivan collaboration), and I think it's fair to say that a tiny house would be jarring there.

Bill, Republic of Texas said...

would love to know how that fits your definition of liberalism.

It fits perfectly. Liberals hate working class people. Liberals are a coalition of rich and culture snobs and welfare recipients.

BrianE said...

Ms. Althouse reveals her inner statist.
I chuckle when folks call her conservative. I guffaw when I hear the word libertarian used near her.
There is nothing like zoning laws to reveal the true nature of an individual.
'But...but...trailers!!!!'
Surely you have a more convincing argument for your desire to control what I do on MY property.

Texas has it about right. Whether (shudder) trailers (shudder) are allowed should be a function of covenants...not bureaucrats.
A home should be a place to keep you warm and dry...not a monument to your ego.
Mind you, I don't mind if you wish to make it so...please give me the same consideration.

Anonymous said...

All this talk about trailer parks and no one has mentioned, Trailer Park Boys. Watch the best comedy TV to ever come out of Canada, except for Corner Gas although the two are very close in the rankings. Both are available on Youtube. You can watch an episode TPB here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sa4AMZ5ajKg&list=PLJHcLcGTZhpu9FbToxB_FxOIVUKXrLBa2

Here are a couple of spoilers: Each season begins with the boys getting out of prison and each season ends with the boys going back to prison. Ricky, one of the boys, wears the same shirt throughout a season but changes it the next season. Julian, another of the boys, always has a drink in his hand, usually rum and coke. If I remember correctly, Ricky says, "I've been shot," every season, but I might be wrong although he does get shot a lot.

Enjoy.

To get back to the topic of the post or the topic of the comments, all liberals are tested when they perceive their perfect life (homes) are threatened by the mob, and why not?

The tiny house movement is a scam like all things originating from the left: monies will be raised, to build; to hire attorneys, to defend; to hire attorneys, to oppose; and finally, to hire consultants to decide what to do with the thousands of vacant units littering formerly open space, like so much goose poop.

J Melcher said...

My mother-in-law owns, outright, a mobile home in Plano Texas. Plano is the suburb that upper-middle-class white folks commute to Dallas from. (RICH white folks, particularly those associated with Southern Methoidst University, live in enclave communities geographically within but politically separate from Dallas. Ross Perot, GW Bush, etc) Plano seems not to suffer much from my M-i-L's Social-Security limited lower-middle class, tiny home centered life.

Texas is part time home to many Canadians, Wisconsonites, and other "snow birds" who drive wheeled tiny homes brand named Winnebago or AirStream to Galveston or Corpus Christe or the state park in the Davis Mountains, to stay for slightly less than six months at a time. Not quite long enough to become tax-payers, you see. Because their homes are in fact mobile they have all the benefits of city services (sewer, water, cable TV, garbage collection, police protection, fire response, EMTs, libraries, cheap classes at the county community colleges...) and none of the expense. A VERY nice deal and one I'm looking at seriously, especially now that my book collection (some 6000 volumes)approahces half duplication on the Kindle; and the remaining teenagers have launch to college on their multi-year planning calendar.

But then my attitudes on mobile homes is more a early-life conditioning thing -- shaped by Lucy and Desi in "The Long, Long Trailer" more than practical reality. Though, even then, the communities Lucy and Desi, however temporarily, homed in on were MUCH nicer than some of the permanant communities one drives thru on the way from SMU to Plano...

Krumhorn said...

I wonder what the difference might be in the horrors of having a trailer park roll in next door in an unregulated environment and the use of zoning codes and building permits to require that developers set aside a certain percentage of units in a high-end building for low income Section 8 housing?

I swear to the sweet baby Jesus that I would hands down prefer the trailer park.

- Krumhorn

Larry J said...

Ann Althouse said...
But with no zoning, you have a trailer park next door.


Trailer parks are normally filled with people who can't afford better housing.

Why do you hate poor people, Ann?

Seriously, I'd rather have a trailer park where people own their homes next to my neighborhood than a bunch of people renting houses in my neighborhood. All things being equal, owners tend to take better care of their homes than renters. There are exceptions, of course.

Humperdink said...

Ann said: "I wish someone could go in an put an infill comment in that space Humperdink left in his comment.

My topic is respect for the spaces that you share with others, and your comment is an object lesson."

That wasn't on purpose dear hostess. I posted (i.e. copy and pasted) the James Carville quote twice. I recognized my error and deleted the second paste. I didn't realize it would leave a gaping hole in your thread. Things happen on the keyboard. My apologies.

southcentralpa said...

He thinks that's libertarian?

Amateur. Try Kowloon's Walled City. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2139914/A-rare-insight-Kowloon-Walled-City.html

BrianE said...

Given the current economic climate, you're not likely to see a trailer park moving in next door.
With illegals dominating the sf construction industry, and interest rates that penalize trailers, trailers don't make economic sense at this time.
Your worry should be PUD's and cookie cutter subdivisions with lot sizes only marginally larger than current trailer parks. Of course they do include garages to stuff your stuff.
when mortgage rates hit 10% again, house prices will come down, masses will loose their homes in a second round of defaults, and trailers won't look so bad.
As to micro-housing, I enjoy seeing the efficiency, as much as I enjoy the efficiency on my sailboat. Storage is an issue in both, I suspect.

turk187 said...

I loved this video I'm going to save it to my drive. I live in Victoria TX and found the bit about my city really interesting.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Damn, scratch a liberal...

The "things unsaid" ratio in Prof A's comments is pretty high, no? What property rights do you have in land you don't own near yours but might have to look at? The externality imposed by (what you consider) poor aesthetics allows you how much day over others' actions (or, I guess, rights)? Geez, I remember a few posts ago when it was argued that opposing non-native plants could be coded racism. No relevance here, though.