I don't mean to be a spoilsport, and I admire what they are doing, but this new "Tiny House" movement is all kinds of wrong headed. Here's the gist of it: Madison Wisconsin, like the rest of the country, has a rapidly increasing homeless problem (up 47 percent in the last three years) which includes both single men and women and also families. Occupy Madison has created a kind of temporary solution in these tiny homes--96 square feet, toilet, electric light, bed. It doesn't say if they have kitchen facilities. The cost per home is 3000 dollars which obviously compares favorably to the state paying hotels for emergency housing and may compare favorably to subsidized Section 8 housing if that housing is scarce or unreliable. Right now the Tiny Homes are set up on trailers so they can be parked on the street and towed every 48 hours. This gets around zoning issues but, of course, adds to the cost since the homeless person now needs to have a car capable of pulling the house or needs to be networked in with a community organization that will tow and re-settle them on a regular basis. A potential long term goal may be to place 30 or so of these houselets into a planned community which would then, presumably, offer amenities like laundry, landscaping, common areas, cooking facilities.
From a long term perspective I'm not sure I think this is better than a properly run SRO, or some other kind of quasi public, subsidized, small housing for people. For one thing these don't have kitchens or laundries attached. So the occupant needs to satisfy these basic needs offsite. They appear to be one room with a toilet--so they aren't a good fix for families who are homeless. In addition, as far as I know from presentations I've been to for the homeless female population of my own city, an enormous portion of this population has substance abuse and mental health needs which need to be met. They aren't all homeless merely because housing prices are out of sight around here. They are also homeless because they don't have the family and social networks that keep people couch surfing or living in a room in someone else's house. Privacy is great but it can also create isolation. In fact one low threshold homeless shelter in my city has instituted a program to enable the women who do get apartments to come back to socialize with each other during some afternoons. They found that the isolation of being housed, after being on the streets, was very difficult for this population to take since they tended to lack family, jobs, and other social connectors.
I like the idea of some kind of mini co-housing model, in which people can share cooking, laundry, and workshop spaces while limiting their private spaces to these inexpensive houselets. We already have high end co-housing here which enables people to downsize and conserve on space while sharing and co-owning areas, like a library or a big social space, that they only need once in a while. Co-Housing and shared spaces are both cost effective and socially desirable--in the absence of affordable single family homes or apartments, that is. But I wonder if this model of the stand alone (or pull alone) trailer bedroom is really a good solution for generic homelessness in many places? How is it different from recreating an privatized trailer-style living situation for vulnerable people? Its not even necessarily as good as a standard trailer, which have cooking facilities. Also, it should go without saying that a stand alone house, which does not share walls, roof, utilities, hookups etc... with other units is not as ecologically conservative as a well designed apartment within an apartment building.