The lack of affordable housing remains a problem in Connecticut — and Doug Werner of Tiny House Co. in Bridgeport sees tiny homes as a solution.
“It works for everybody, and everybody wins,” he said.
Werner and his team have been campaigning for years to secure a parcel of land in Park City where they can build a community of tiny houses which he hopes will kickstart interest in city and state officials looking to deal with need-based housing demands.
Since 2011, the state and private sector have invested billions of dollars in developing and funding thousands of units of housing available to those whose income is at or below the area median, which as of April 5 was $89,773, according to USA Today.
The gap in supply and demand remains, despite the investment.
Werner said he thinks tiny homes could be a viable option to increasing the affordable housing stock.
Reuse and reclaimed
There are several blighted and non-conforming parcels that go undeveloped because of zoning red tape in urban areas like Bridgeport, officials have said.
That’s where Werner sees most of the opportunity.
“What this could do for a city like Bridgeport is change the infrastructure of what public housing is,” he said. “It’s a battle, but we are not giving up on it by any means.”
A tiny home traditionally ranges between 400 and 800 square feet and can be built cheaper and quicker than full-sized homes.
To compare, the average house built in 1973 was 1,660 square feet; by 2015, that had increased to 1,027 square feet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
A single-wide mobile home ranges from 600 to 1,330 square feet. A double-wide generally ranges from 1,056 to 2,072 square feet.
A 420-square-foot tiny home costs between $50,000 and $65,000 and takes 90 days to complete, according to Werner, whose team builds pre-fabricated units.
Mobile homes listed for sale on Zillow go for between $20,000 and $120,000 depending on whether single or double wide, where the home is located and what it features.
The median house in the state was listed by Zillow as $244,500. In Fairfield County, according to an April 5 USA Today article, the median home value was $435,477.
Tiny houses also offer a level of flexibility in where they can be built.
“We can design to taste,” Werner said, adding that units are built with rough plumbing and electric hook-ups that can also tie into local sewage and power grids.
A developer can purchase a parcel of land — particularly a nonconforming lot, which is unsuitable for most housing — and build multiple units on it, creating a small community, he said.
Werner envisions building a “city within a city,” with roughly 150 units on a few acres of land, both housing and miniature business spaces.
Bridgeport has more than 300 nonconforming lots.
“The biggest problem in Connecticut is that the exclusionary zoning that we have engaged in in many towns over the last (several) years with big lots and big houses…has caused us to not consider alternative means of housing,” said valley land use attorney Dominick Thomas.
In Stamford, for example, the city’s health code has certain minimum standards regarding square footage per person. There the required lot size is 10,000 square feet per unit.
Tiny home communities in areas like Greenwich are also unlikely because land is very expensive, according to area housing experts.
To address need-based housing with tiny house lots, there must be a commitment from town and city officials to rezone areas to open the market, according to Bridgeport land use attorney Charles Willinger.
“To accomplish that — really, the impetus has to be on the town and the town zoning officials to carve into the regulations, language and appropriate zones ... to address these tiny homes,” he said. “One way or another, you are going to have to have a buy-in by the municipality.”
The stage may be set in Bridgeport in the recently adopted 10-year master plan, which calls for zoning changes and thousands of new units of housing, including affordable units.
“We need to provide housing at all price points in the city,” said Lynn Haig, director of Bridgeport’s planning and zoning commission.
She said the city’s housing stock in general has been outpaced by growing demand, especially in market rate and affordable units. As a result, people who can afford market rate units are moving into the more affordable lower rate units, throwing the market out of balance for need-based residents.
Goals in the master plan include building more than 400 units of affordable housing in the next decade and easing zoning regulations so vacant and nonconforming lots can be redeveloped.
While Haig didn’t comment on whether tiny house development would be part of Bridgeport’s future, state officials did.
“I think Tiny Homes is an innovative concept that could potentially be a viable option for affordable housing,” said Shanté Hanks, Deputy Commissioner for the state Department of Housing. “Providing quality housing is the cornerstone of the Department of Housing, and we know that homeownership has historically been an intrinsic feature of American society.”
Hanks told Hearst Connecticut Media she would willing to bring the discussion to the Commissioner and Gov. Ned Lamont.