Written By Alexis Stephens
The National Association of Home Builders and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently co-hosted the inaugural Innovative Housing Showcase. During this free 5-day event, attendees toured new building technologies and housing solutions. Importantly, tiny houses were front and center. The focus of the Showcase: ways to make housing more affordable for American families and homes more resilient during natural disasters.
Inclusion meant tiny houses further legitimized as a quality, affordable housing solution to a wide range of needs— a big step forward for greater acceptance. The Showcase provided an incredible opportunity for advocates to speak directly to elected officials and policymakers to give them a greater understanding of tiny house benefits for community development, and the barriers to legal placement.
The two movable tiny houses on display came showcased the diversity of building materials and construction techniques within the movement. Core Housing Solutions brought their Firefly model, a 200 square foot tiny home weighing with a downstairs bedroom. At 25′ long, it weighs a mere 5,500 lbs. To achieve this and below-average cost, the builders use innovative materials, including metal SIP panels, NASA engineered for high tolerances—stronger pound for pound than reinforced concrete.
The Build Us Hope nonprofit and their for-profit partner, Tiny House Developers, brought their Big Blue model. It is a 32′ three-bedroom tiny home. They build using three framing types: light gauge injected steel panels, SIPs framing, and traditional studs framing. Their exhibit also featured a visuals V13, their first veterans’ micro home village in Phoenix. Their second community is currently in the works.
Other event displays included a reimagined shipping container house and an expandable, stackable building system. For example, exhibitor IndieDwell builds steel modular housing with a high durability, healthy, and sustainability focus. They showcased their largest model, 960 square feet made from three recycled out-of-service containers. Additionally, they offer one and two container models. Their smallest is 320 square feet. To learn more about what modular means, read this.
To my delight, the movable tiny houses were incredibly well-received with bi-partisan support, as demonstrated by in-person feedback and numerous mentions during the event’s talks. Additionally, as a general public crowd-pleaser, they clearly had the longest lines all five days.
On day one, Zack Giffin, Tiny House Nation co-host and THIA board member, led a thought-provoking panel discussion on tiny homes, titled “Many Problems, Mini Solutions.” Participants included me, Core Housing’s Andrew Bennett and Build Us Hope’s Elizabeth Singelton. It provided an excellent overview of the nationwide opportunities and obstacles facing tiny house development.
All tiny house reps enjoyed many brief one-on-one opportunities to discuss outdated restrictive regulations and financing opportunities with HUD representatives, from the Innovation Office to Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Follow-up communications are in the works to discuss lending opportunities, as well as a potential HUD tiny house workgroup. Something American Tiny House Association chapter leaders, Todd McKellips and Hannah Rose Crabtree helping to promote. Of note, they also head up the Washington Tiny House Association.
They were in attendance, in part, to share the news about the new Washington State Bill addressing tiny house building standards, placement, and anti-discrimination protections. While imperfect like all legislation, it shows how states can help legitimize tiny houses as housing, which in turn, hopefully, will expedite local approvals.
A vital event objective was productive conversation on how to facilitate more acceptance of non-traditional yet practical housing options, regardless of political affiliation. A hot topic was the role of the federal government to apply pressure locally to ease out-of-date, overly restrictive regulations.
To that end, HUD outlined one of their goals as trying to educate state and local governments on options they should review and ways to work together to overcome obstacles, with help from the private sector.
It was heartwarming to see a mix of policymakers, congress members (on both sides of the aisle), financial regulators, industry professionals, etc., come together over the common ground of providing more Americans with homeownership opportunities. Ultimately the Showcase generated numerous worthwhile exposure for tiny houses, as both a fill-in-the-gaps housing solution and as a flexible emergency housing option.
While I am not naive that this event will directly solve local issues. Inclusion itself gave tiny housing a new level of legitimization. Though talk can be cheap, the national level education and PR opportunities were exceedingly valuable.
Additionally, I am grateful that a diverse group of tiny home dwellers, builders, and grassroots advocates were able to participate in sharing a realistic look at what’s happening around the country within the tiny house movement.
While there, my partner Christian and I asked event attendees, from HUD reps to the general public, “What’s your first impression of the tiny house?” Watch the below video to hear their responses. And no, we did not cut out negative feedback. We received thoughtful responses from all who spoke with us.
-Alexis Stephens, THIA board member and Tiny House Expedition co-founder