What’s happening with affordable housing in DC?  Just within the past decade, median home values have doubled (DC median home values in 2010 are $400,000 — nearly double the median value in 2000), rent for a one-bedroom unit has gone up 50%, and the number of low-income rental units has halved (fell from more than 70,000 to 34,500). Shelter is becoming increasingly unaffordable at a breakneck rate. A quarter of DC renters are spending half their income on housing, D.C. ranks 2nd among least affordable places to live in U.S. (see 2012 DC Fiscal Institute report)

Where do tiny homes potentially fit in? It may be that nothing can replace subsidized affordable housing. But given the current lack of it, it’s compelling to picture the potential of hundreds of vacant lots and partially used alleyways dotting the city. Is it possible we could align zoning to have small scale, affordable, attractive urban infill? Could we eventually develop a DC-based network of small house contractors building and financing mobile studios with a $300 monthly payment?

Are tiny homes really affordable?  By one metric tiny homes are very inexpensive. A fully loaded 2012 Lincoln Navigator costs $57K, for that you can build yourself 2 new tiny homes.  However the current problem is financing- one can easily finance a $60K single wide, but it is currently more difficult get financing for a $30K tiny home.  Thus most people building/buying these small structures are doing it out of pocket.

Wouldn’t it be more space efficient to build affordable multifamily units?  It would, and this makes sense where space is available for larger structures, and developers are interested in constructing it.  For alley lots and countless backyard spaces, the answer is small single family structures.


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