American Tiny House Association logo from its website.
Great Barrington — Could tiny houses help to solve the affordable housing crisis in the area? Representatives of the American Tiny House Association believe so and have been proponents of building and placing the structures in the area.
At the Tuesday, August 16 meeting of the Affordable Housing Trust, Association President Kevin Polk and Program Director Amy Turnbull submitted a grant proposal to the town that they hope will encourage the construction of tiny houses on properties.
The association is based in Point Arena, Calif., but Turnbull works out of Dalton.
In an interview before the meeting, Turnbull clarified that a tiny house is defined as being moveable, under 400 square feet, but cannot be built any less than 150 square feet because they have to comply with local building codes. Turnbull said that, on average, a tiny house can be built for about $20,000 to $150,000, depending on the size of the building and the amenities in the house.
“In Great Barrington, there was a bylaw that was passed in 2020 that allows moveable tiny houses as accessory dwelling units,” Turnbull said. “What has happened so far is that, while the building of tiny houses has been legalized, it has not resulted in any tiny house placements. I think part of the problem is that the process is complicated. It involves a couple of the different branches of the local government, including the Board of Health, the Planning Department, and the building inspector for the town.”
At the August 16 meeting, Turnbull and Polk submitted a proposal for an accessory dwelling unit tiny house host program. According to Turnbull, the program would be incentivizing the creation of tiny houses in the area.
As outlined in the proposal, the program would provide an eligible homeowner in town with construction financing, along with support in finding a participant who owns a moveable tiny house, and assistance in creating a level pad with utility service for the tiny house.
In exchange for participation in the program, the homeowner would rent the tiny house pad for five years, with rental income paying back loan principal and interest, which would provide income to the owner.
“We are seeking $50,000 for a one-year demonstration project,” both Turnbull and Polk wrote in the proposal. “$30,000 would be used to cover project staﬃng, while the other $20,000 of this award would establish a revolving loan fund that provides the homeowner with construction financing and the movable tiny house owner with funds to pay for the third party certification needed to comply with the town bylaw.”
Turnbull and Polk wrote that the model of the program is based upon a 2019 project in Santa Rosa, Calif., which “placed the first movable tiny house under the city’s still-unused tiny house provisions of its fire-recovery related Resilient Cities Ordinance.”
The program, if approved, would survey property owners to establish a list of potential participants, and would connect potential hosts with moveable tiny house owners.
“Great Barrington has a housing supply crisis that is pricing out local working households and constraining the businesses that employ them,” Turnbull and Polk wrote in their proposal. “At the same time, many homeowners, especially homeowners on fixed incomes, are feeling the pinch of inflation and are struggling to make ends meet. Great Barrington is experiencing substantial growth as a vacation and second home destination. This growth has increased significantly since the pandemic, which marked a steep rise in housing prices as inventory went down and housing prices continue to go up.”
The two wrote that while affordable housing developments by local organizations may be a viable alternative, the high costs of building the developments, along with the long wait for potential residents to get into the developments, are not suitable for residents who need immediate housing.
The total grant request, as outlined in the proposal, is $50,000. As part of the grant request, recoverable costs include $17,500 for permits and construction fees and $2,500 in third-party inspection fees. Non-recoverable costs include a program director’s salary of $25,000 and $5,000 in fringe benefits for the director.
Members of the trust did not vote on the proposal at the August 16 meeting. Its next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, September 20 at 6:30 p.m.