Agency has big hopes for tiny houses in Fort Wayne

What: Tiny House Showcase

Where: Parkview Field

When: VIP event 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, $40 per ticket; Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., $10 per ticket pre-sale and $12 after Oct. 7. Children 12 and under free with an adult ticket.

For more information go to mybrightpoint.org/tinyhouse

When I was a kid, one of my friends had a small homemade “club house” in the back yard. It was a fun place to spend a night, but I wouldn’t have wanted to live there.

A lot of people seem to feel otherwise these days, though, giving rise to a “tiny house” movement that boasts its own TV shows, web sites and a growing number of advocates who seem to believe the Earth will somehow benefit from the discomfort created by cramming themselves and their belongings into just a few hundred square feet.

As a potential source of affordable housing for low-income people, however, the concept makes some sense — which is why a local social-service agency is planning a “Tiny House Showcase” next weekend at Parkview Field.

“The purpose is to raise our profile and to raise awareness that this might be an option. It’s definitely on our radar,” said Steve Hoffman, president and CEO of Brightpoint, which helps provide and other poverty-fighting programs. The event will feature displays from about 20 vendors, and although Hoffman knows many visitors will be drawn by the prospect of “simple, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly living,” he’s intrigued by the prospect of providing decent housing for more people at less cost.

According to the TinyLife.com, the typical American house contains around 2,600 square feet compared to between 100 and 400 square feet for a “tiny” house. The average cost of a standard home is about $272,000 compared to $23,000 for a tiny house built by the owner, and 68 percent of the people who own such homes have no mortgage compared to 29.3 percent of all U.S. homeowners.

And although the average per-capital income of a tiny-house dweller is about $42,000, Hoffman wants to help people who make considerably less. Educating the public and developers to the possibilities tiny houses could provide could help to that.

But not just yet, because Allen County building and zoning regulations don’t allow single-family homes of less than 950 square feet, according to Kim Bowman, executive director of the Department of Planning Services. Justin Busch, a county councilman who is sympathetic to tiny houses so long as they do not hurt surrounding properties, is working to pull together information about current regulations for people who may be interested in the lifestyle. Changes in local or state laws could be considered.

Garfield County, Col., had similar laws before changes were made earlier this year to make tiny homes more permissible in unincorporated areas. The previous requirement that dwellings be at least 20-by-20, dated back to the 1970s and was an attempt to control the proliferation of mobile homes. Even Hoffman admits tiny houses would be out of place in most subdivisions, but a separate development devoted to tiny homes and other amenities (such as laundry facilities or clubhouse) needed to support them might be another story if the codes are changed, he said — a possibility Hoffman intends to explore with Bowman’s staff.

When Cori Cox, Angel Tyra and their 8-year-old daughter Amelia moved out of their 1,000-square-foot home and into an 8-by-20 house near Terre Haute in 2015, Tyra had to cut her shoe collection in half, Amelia donated most of her toys to charity and Cori unloaded most of the furniture. The “sustainable” lifestyle, he told the Indianapolis Star at the time, “just fit in with our values.”

According to Forbes, though, the trend may turn out to be just the latest fad, meaning money spent on tiny homes could turn out to be a bad investment. And unless you want to get rid of almost all of your stuff, they might not even be cheaper if you have to rent a storage unit or a venue every time you want to throw a party.

In Portland, Ore., earlier this year, officials said they would build a tiny house called an “accessory dwelling unit” in the back yards of willing property owners so the homeless could live there. After five years, the ADU would become the property of the homeowner. That approach probably wouldn’t fly in Fort Wayne, but this seems as good a time as any to explore what role if any tiny homes should play in the Fort Wayne housing market, and whether they can be introduced in a way that does not create as many problems as they solve.

And that review should come soon: The city’s Board of Zoning Appeals has just received a waiver from the 950-square-foot requirement from a man who wants to move a 920-square-foot home into the 600 block of Riverside Drive.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

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