Maybe what’s missing in Greensboro’s struggles to provide enough affordable housing for its residents is imagination.
So, while the City Council’s plan to (finally) to sue the most negligent local landlords is a good thing, what else are we going to do?
To be clear, the crackdown on a group of chronically bad actors — 10 in all — who have thumbed their noses at city inspectors is long overdue. One company alone — Arco Realty and its affiliates — owes the city more than $600,000 in back fines for rental-inspection violations.
But taking these companies to court in itself is not going to solve the problem. New ways of thinking about housing will. For instance, tiny houses.
On June 1, Greensboro became the first community in North Carolina to establish a permanent community of tiny houses. Thanks to the kindnesses of friends, neighbors and total strangers, The Hammer Tiny Community Development on Causey Street officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. More than 1,000 volunteers, churches, nonprofit organizations, businesses, civic groups and individual donors financed the village, which features an herb and vegetable garden at its entrance.
The concept is at once brilliant and simple: compact living spaces that provide both shelter and the basic necessities at a minimal cost. As the News & Record’s Scott Hoffmann recently reported, tiny houses range in size from slightly less than 400 square feet to 500 square feet. Each includes a bedroom, kitchen, living area and bathroom, as well as washers and dryers. Each unit is designed to make the most of every inch of space.
As the stock of safe, affordable housing in Greensboro remains desperately low, tiny houses can help address the shortage. Among the targeted tenants are the homeless, veterans and ex-prisoners.
The Hammer Tiny Community is a modest beginning. It consists of only six houses.
But plans are well underway for a second tiny house community in Greensboro as well as similar communities in High Point.
Scott Jones, who is the executive board chairman for Tiny House Community Development Inc., told the News & Record that his group hopes to build more than 100 tiny houses throughout the state over the next five years.
Of course, some people may find tiny communities off-putting because, well, they look so different. Actually, if you care to visit, they are charming and attractive, a quaint cluster of cottages painted in pastels and earth tones.
One reason they seem so tiny is that the rest of our houses have gotten so big. The average size of a new single-family U.S. home grew from 1,780 square feet in 1978 to 2,662 square feet in 2013. (How many of us truly need that much space?)
Among concepts that other communities are considering to address housing shortages:
Houses constructed from pallets.
Outbuildings converted to houses.
Shipping containers repurposed as apartments.
Mixed-use communities that set aside a certain percentage of their residences as affordable housing.
Holistic approaches to revive communities by rehabilitating existing housing, involving residents in those efforts and providing health care support. (Greensboro’s Cottage Grove neighborhood is an excellent example.)
For now, we commend the local architects of our new tiny house neighborhood, who hope to create big changes by thinking small.