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Tiny Houses, Homeless And Low Income Housing Options

Alright this post is inevitably going to ruffle some feathers and bring much disagreement.  However I still feel like I need to share my thoughts on this topic.  So if folks disagree, let’s try to keep the conversation civil and productive even if we disagree.  Also please read the full post before commenting, because without doing so, I don’t get to finish my point, which may address your comment.   So into the fire we go…

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I guess a good place to start is what I think tiny houses are good for and a little of my background.  Before I took the leap to my current career, I worked directly with homeless and in other non profit capacities where I came face to face with the realities of homelessness, drug use, child abuse, systemic generational poverty and a whole host of other major social issues.  It was both inspiring to see the unsung heroes like single mothers trying to keep a stable home and the tragic realities of drug use tearing families apart at all income levels.

I share this because unlike most, I’ve had to grapple with the issues first hand.  More importantly I worked on some of the most progressive programs in the country to tackle these issues.  I’ve seen what actually makes a difference, what makes an impact, and what doesn’t work; because I’ve been there, basically what I’m saying is I feel I’m more informed on this topic than most folks out there.

So what are tiny houses good for?  I believe they are a great way for people to reclaim the future, a future without debt, a future with possibilities and opportunities.  I see tiny houses as a major activator for people.  It is a way that people can be their most actualized self’s.  This is a really important point that I want to make for this entire post, most of what I’m going to say is predicated on this single notion. 

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I believe that tiny houses should be built, designed and lived in for one to achieve self actualization, not just for basic needs.  I think that anything short of that is a failure. In some cases it could be of the person or of society, its support services and general functions; realistically its a mix of both at varying degrees.  At this point I will generally say across the board, we all can do better.  I believe a person should work hard, do their best, and carry their fair share, but I also know we as a society have challenges in enabling people to be the best we can be and we can do better.  Imagine a society where every person is brought to their maximum potential, I’m not sure it will ever be possible, but even getting close would be awe inspiring.

So now what I think tiny houses aren’t for.  I feel that if a person chooses a tiny house because the are financially left with no other option then they should not live in a tiny house.  That is not because I don’t think low income folks shouldn’t live in tiny houses or I’m trying to maintain some status quo; it is because I feel that if someone chooses a tiny house because that’s the only thing they can afford then we as a society have failed.  I also know in order to live in such a tiny space, if your motivation isn’t 100% because you have come to the determination that a tiny house is for your best life, it won’t work out; you’ll end up moving out soon after and trying to get back you money through selling it.

Let’s be clear, I’m not against this because of the person, but because somewhere along the way, that person was put into that compromising situation.  Let’s not get into the potential political implications here of socialization, “entitlement programs” and other way society can support individuals.  Instead let us agree that if someone is forced into a tiny house because they financially have no other choice, something went wrong: in reality that person could have done things differently, our community and neighbors could have done things differently and our society/government could have done better too; let’s skip specifically how they could have done better, because it will just muddle the issue we are discussing here.

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So who should live in a tiny house?  I believe that a person should live in a tiny house when the first four levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs (the image above) are fulfilled.  This means that the person has all their basic needs met, they are secure, they have a support system, and are in good esteem about themselves.  Note in that I don’t tie that to any financial status, but the realities of this world mean that these things are intrinsically tied to money.  Right now it takes money to put a roof over your head, to put food on the table and keep you healthy, warm and clean.

It is true that a tiny house can equate to a roof over your head and the money situation changes in favor of food, warmth, etc.  But I feel like we should not just leave it there.  Tiny houses should be beautiful and well designed homes, not a budget utilitarian structure.  The reason being is that if its just a house built with the cheapest materials possible, with only utility in mind, with choices made because of budget, we again are failing because one can not achieve their maximum potential in a poorly executed tiny house.

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I believe that a well designed space that has good materiality and quality craftsmanship is the only way to be actualized.  So in general I don’t like the notion that “I’m going to build the cheapest house possible because that’s all I can afford.”  It is not that cheap materials can’t be used to achieve great things, that unique can’t be beautiful, that quirky can’t be fun, but again, you should choose them because you have the choice of whatever is best for you.  And studies support this notion: studies have shown a better designed and appointed environment will make us happier, learn more, be more vibrant and think better.

Basically what I’m saying is that a person must first attain a level of quality of life, of inner peace and essentially prosperity before I think they should live in a tiny house.  Now I unquestionably understand there is a bit of the chicken or the egg paradox going on here, there are many that need a tiny house to change the game so they can achieve that prosperity, but I argue against this not because it’s the person’s fault – not necessarily, of course there are exceptions -, but that situation signals a failure somewhere in the system.  Again, lets not try to place a finger on where or who, because it will take us off topic here.

To take this a bit further I believe that a person should only make a choice to live in a tiny house when they have the option to live in a larger home and that choice would be a relatively easy one for them to execute on financially. The reason being that by being in that situation of having options, you can then choose what is best for you.  That could be a tiny house, a small house, an sail boat or possibly even a larger home.

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The truth is if you can’t meet your basic needs (food, water, shelter), if you are always worrying about money, if you massively in debt, or some other compromising situation for whatever reason, you are operating in survival mode or from crisis to crisis.  In this state it forces a person to operate at a more basic level because you’re constantly worried about making rent/bills/etc that month, even though you are capable of a much higher level of being.

I think this is particularly true and important to note because many of the folks, though exceptions certainly exist, who started the movement and now tell the stories of tiny living (the main bloggers) were in a place where they had a choice. So when we read the blog posts we need to be able to differentiate the difference between their life of having those first four levels addressed and what actually stems from the tiny house.  I assert that a lot of the desirable traits of tiny houses are more so from being fulfilled not the house itself.

Thus getting into a tiny house is a poor way to achieve these things.  If you are at an economic disadvantage, if your health isn’t good, if you job doesn’t pay you enough, you have huge debt, or your stuck in a compromising position, a tiny house doesn’t fix that.  It may ease these burdens, but we should instead focus on the core issue, the root of the problem.  To not address these things and still live in a tiny house will not help and possibly make things worse if say the city comes and says you can’t live there.  Then you’re out all the money and no better off, in fact you’d be much worse off.

I want to illustrate having a house does not equal happiness, most often it merely amplifies the good or bad things that were already there.  The notion that most people who first came to the movement had options to live in most any way they wanted weighs out, particularly when the movement first started.  It is getting less this way, which I think is a good thing.

Back in 2010 we conducted a survey of 4,000 tiny house folks, most people who lived in tiny houses made an average individual income of $48,000 (if two income earns: ~$80,000) which is way more than the average household in the US.  What this means is the people who were the first to build and live in tiny homes on wheels had enough to make those choices freely.  Of course exceptions exists, but I also know they are the minority and little indication of the majority.

Again this is not to equate money with happiness, quality of life, or similar things, but the reality is that if you do have enough money (maybe not a lot) you can attain things which help towards this cause.  You can keep a roof over your head, you have health insurance that keeps you healthy, you don’t stress about paying bills which is the number one cause of divorce and stress today.  These things set the stage to be happy, but don’t necessarily cause or bring happiness.

One study that does tie in here: A recent Princeton study of 450,000 Americans found that people who make $75,000 annually seems to be the sweet spot.  At that level the person can have all the things they need, they can save for a rainy day, and they have some extra for entertainment.  Now that also doesn’t jive with the reality of most Americans, because the average median household income is about $43,000.

It is also certainly true that anyone at any level of economic status can be happy, but its also true that if you get sick and have no way to see a doctor, if you go to bed hungry, if you don’t get a good sleep consistently because you worry about bills,  it’s going to put a damper on things quickly.

Along these lines, if you live in a utilitarian house that is not beautiful, just ok craftsmanship, and cheap materiality you cannot attain your highest level of being.  I see folks living in home depot sheds with no insulation, they used T1-11 for siding, or things of that nature and I can’t see how they can meet their full potential in that space. I see people who live full time in RV’s, mobile homes, and the like which again, you can certainly have a decent life, but I don’t think you’ll find your full potential in those spaces.

To live in these spaces, I am not convinced that those folks can be their best selves in that structure. Can they be pretty happy and doing fine, sure. However I don’t want to see people do just “ok” or to scrape by, I want to see people grow to their best self.

Now I think there are certainly exceptions to everything and I think the tiny house movement has proved that breaking the norms is a powerful thing.  So I’d like to mention some exceptions that come to mind, but certainly are not limited to just these.

In all this it’s obvious that I don’t think tiny houses should be used as a tool to end homelessness.  That is because those who are homeless do not have their basic needs met and thus cannot have an actualized life until they are met.  I don’t believe that someone should live in a tiny house because they can’t do anything else.  If someone doesn’t come to the decision of tiny houses because they have come to that decision on an actualized state, it most likely will not work for them long term, tiny houses only really work out for those that intrinsically desire to live in such a small space.

What role I do see tiny houses in for the homeless is in a temporary housing option where we can stabilize them and get them into services to reintegrate them into a normal life.  In general the time they live in a tiny house should be used to get them healthy, feeling secure, start any mental health treatments or rehab services if needed, then get them into an employment opportunity and an apartment/group home.  In general I think they should be transitioned out of a tiny house in 6 months to a year at most.  At which point we focus on stability, treatment, mitigating negative behaviors, establishing new behaviors, and establishing healthy relationships.

In terms of lower income folks who are semi stable, but still living pay check to pay check, I feel like we need to focus not on a tiny house, but increasing that person’s economic prosperity, boosting income, getting out of debt and building a rainy day fund.  This could be achieved though pursuing further education, seeking higher paying jobs, support services of various kinds and a variety of other things.  Again lets not get into politics here and also please don’t read this as “poor people should just work harder or get a better job” because I disagree with that statement vehemently.  I do believe that people should have the opportunity to live a quality life that is productive and happy.

It is from there that I think that lower income folks can transition to a highly stable and actualized place, then make the decision to live in a tiny house or not.  Though many will argue that a tiny house will get people there sooner or might be the only way it would be possible to do so.  I agree and disagree with parts of that notion.  Again I feel that if someone is in this place its at least partly a systemic issue that needs be addressed.  Because again, a tiny house won’t fix the problem, it may just ease it’s outcomes, but its toxicity still exists.

Finally, to be fair, I should pick on those who do have the financial means to choose, because money doesn’t equal happiness and the pursuit of income can bring about negative behaviors that are counter to hierarchy of needs we are trying to achieve.  If you are one that earns, say $75,000 a year, there is very few situations that you should not be living your most actualized life.   You want to ensure you meet your needs, but also do things that will ensure you continue to live that way in the future.

With any career, it can be easy to spend too much time at work; a work life balance is notoriously difficult to achieve, but vital to your happiness.  You need to balance your work demands with the people in your life and self care.  Make sure you’re doing what makes you most happy.  Spend time with family, with your kids and friends.  Be a good partner to your significant other, communicate your needs, honor their needs, and be a giving lover.

In most situations you should be saving a sizable portion of your income for three things: retirement, rainy day fund, and upcoming big expenditures to avoid debt.  With this you are able to pay for today, save for tomorrow and weather the ups and downs in life.  A great quote that I’ve come to know as true is “there  is no dollar sign on peace of mind, this I’ve come to know”.

So that was a lot, but I feel much better sharing my thoughts on this topic, even if it will cause some disagreements.  At this point I guess I should reiterate that disagreements are fine, but let’s keep it civil, let’s have productive conversations that bring two viewpoints to a place where we move forward.  As with most of my musings, I share these ideas in this post as where I am currently in my thinking, but that is not a static thing; I certainly can be wrong and that’s okay because I learn from it.

Your Turn!

  • What role should tiny houses play with homelessness and affordable housing?
  • How would you solve the issue of someone not being fully actualize, but considering a tiny house?

Tiny House Force Multipliers: Taking Life To The Next Level

I’ve been doing some thinking about tiny houses and my path to them.  A little bit ago I realized that there were some key things I did that I realized may have actually taken the good of my tiny house and brought it to the next level: They acted as a force multiplier.  What is a force multiplier?Untitled-1It’s crazy to think that things could get even better while living in a tiny house! But when we look at tiny house force multipliers we can really take tiny houses to the next level with some tweaks.  Here are five things I’ve come to realize will take your living in a tiny house – or even just those who are living tiny, but not yet in a tiny house – to the next level and change the trajectory of your life so profoundly it will amaze you.

1.  Become Totally Debt Free

This seems obvious and its easier said than done, but living debt free does a lot to for you in terms of financial freedom, reducing stress, and opening up opportunities for yourself.  What is more, when you’re not paying off debt, not only do you not have that money sink, but you can then leverage those funds in better ways.  The opportunity cost here is huge, check out this post.

I also feel the need to clarify that when I say debt free, I mean totally debt free; too often I hear people say “we’re debt free” only to later her about a car payment or student loan. No!  That’s not debt free!  All forms of debt are essentially shackles placed upon you and thus inhibit your ability to live life on your own terms.  For those of you who do have debt, of any kind, make a plan and get rid of it; the only thing that’s worse than debt is being convinced that there is “good debt” or doing nothing about it.

2. Shift To A Location Independent Career

Having a location independent career is essentially having a way to earn a living without having to be physically in one spot all the time.  Basically you can earn a living working remotely, not having to be cooped up in a cubical 9-5 five days a week.  This has been something that from day one I have always wanted to incorporate into my tiny life and since starting this journey have only recently (early 2013) been able to achieve.

Untitled-1I knew that not having to be in an office would make a huge difference, but now that I have been living this life (see this post), I am beginning to think that it actually has had a larger impact than even moving into a tiny house.

Earning a living in this manner has done two main things for me: 1) I can work from interesting places that best for me  2) Since I don’t have to be in an office, my income is not tied to time spent in a chair, but to how productive I am.  This means that I can travel and work from wherever and when I do work, I work as long as it takes to get my tasks done.  This often means that I can buckle down, be efficient, then be done and since I can work from awesome places I can then get up and go explore the places I travel to for the rest of the time.

3.  Built In Resiliency

Resiliency is the ability to respond to changes and shocks to your life and bounce back quickly.  Today in America we are very reliant upon external systems to handle a lot of what we need to do; Things like our food system, our power grid, how most people weather tough times via credit cards, etc.  I will try not to go too deep into this because how large of a topic it is, but read this post to learn more about it.  Suffice to say, I feel like its important for us to plan to stand on our own two feet and to be able to weather the ups and downs in life.  If we plan for those rainy days we extricate ourselves from putting out fires or living crisis to crisis and enter into a place of stability where we can be our best selves.

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There is a good part of the world that lives crisis to crisis and for those who are well off, they typically live big purchase to big purchase. It is no wonder that things are like this because 75% of Americans live pay check to pay check.  Try to understand what that must do on your health, your relationships, your quality of life, your well being when most people barley can come up for air.

Some examples of this for me have been having money set aside for a rainy day.  Opting to have solar panels and a generator.  Having a garden and extra seeds.  Living in a tiny house that I can move to different locations easily.

4. Diversified Income

This is the next major step I’m trying to incorporate into my life.   It’s one that I think will help me boost my resiliency and bring a lot of positives into my life.  Basically my goal is to develop a way to earn a living in addition to the one I already make.  I want this income to be in a different sector, a different way of making money, and have its strong points be the weak points of my other income.  The idea here is if I can earn an additional income unique from my first, they are less likely to both fail or slump at the same time.  Basically when it comes to earning a living, I don’t want all my eggs in one basket.  I have some ideas on how I’m going to do this and am looking forward to pulling the trigger soon.

5. Building A Rainy Day Plan

Here’s the truth, in life, there are going to be bad days and even a few horrible days.  Some will be annoying, but a good night sleep will fix it, others will be catastrophic: illness, job loss, death of loved one, divorce, etc.  In either case you really only need two things: the support of loved ones and time to work through it.  So we know these things are going to happen, so why don’t we plan for it?

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For me a rainy day plan means: have money in the bank so I can live without working for at least a year, have food tucked away for 3 months, have health insurance and I am moving quickly to being debt free.  What this means is if something really bad happens I can just take the time to work through it, do what is best for me at that moment.  I don’t have to worry about work, how I’m going to put food on the table, or pay my bills; I can just deal with that situation, with that grief, with that problem.  In these times you’re best hope is to minimize what you have to worry about and maintain or boost what is most comforting to you.

 

Your Turn!

  • How can you take the good in your life and take it up a notch?
  • What do you do to weather the bad times and not worry in the good times?

My Apartment In Split

So I’ve officially landed in Split, Croatia and will be here for the next month, then I figure I’ll make my way north to Zagrab, maybe even take a day to go to Hungry.   So far my trip has been a interesting in some good ways and in some not so good ways.  First thing I did when I walked off the plane was land in my apartment, take a shower, and sleep.  I shot a video of my new place below.  It’s a small efficiency apartment in the old town of Split, which is an area that dated back to about 300 AD.  So even being in the nicest part of the town, my rent is only $800 for a furnished apartment on a month to month via airbnb.  You can check it out and get a free $25 credit when you sign up for AirBNB by using this link, then searching “Split, Croatia” and then “Apartment Toni in center of Split ”

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In many ways this is much like a tiny house.  It is about 350 square feet, it has a small kitchenette, a bathroom and separate bedroom.  There is a minisplit heater/AC unit like I have in my tiny house and I only have a mini fridge.  The bathroom is a bit interesting, there isn’t a shower, just a stall with and hand shower sprayer and its about 3 feet off the ground, but it works fine for me.  I have this interesting stone wall in the background of the video you can see, its a neat feature.  The couch is actually a futon, so it can open up to have someone sleep there if need be.

I’ve been trying my best to learn Croatia, but its a little hard, because it has some word sounds we don’t use in English.  For example, to say thank you, you say “hvala”  that “hv” noise is hard for me to pick up.  I’m going to try finding a class to learn a bit more.

To make things more interesting, as I was flying over here I had a major allergic reaction to some poison ivy I got while installing my water line to my tiny house the other day.  Mid flight my hands and feet swelled up so bad they felt like they were really badly sunburned because of how stretched the skin became.   I knew it wasn’t anything life threatening, but uncomfortable indeed.  So the first day here I woke up and found a hospital.

I got passed around some and finally was seen by the right person that knew some English to boot, which was nice.  Long story short, some antibiotics, some corticosteroid shots later I was good to go.  The nice part is health care here is pretty modern and very cheap, for my two visits to the ER, 2 shots, antibiotics and 4 cab rides in all cost me a whooping…. wait for it…. $100 USD!  At that price I didn’t even worry about my insurance to file a claim.   As I write this to you my limbs have now returned back to a normal state.

Some photos so far:

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Keepin’ It Tiny

I just can’t hide from tiny houses. They seem to just fall in to my life in random ways. For example, I came home from work the other night and found this lovely house sitting by the entrance to the drive-way. It belongs to a local artist who lived with my friends up the road from my current location.

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A few weeks ago this awesome house rolled in to the parking lot of a contra dance I attended in Southern Vermont. Just another amazing tiny house from North Carolina!

The best tiny house coincidence occurred when I was looking for a placeto live this past spring. I was led to my current tiny life experience through friends and while my ideal was to once again find a tiny space to habitat I wasn’t banking on it. Lo and behold this adorable space was offered to me by lovely people who I am now privileged to call friends as well as neighbors.

photo 5Thus, I now live in a revamped chicken coop! The Coop, as it is adorably referred to, is a 6′ x 8′ space on one of the most beautiful properties I have ever lived on. My friend and neighbor who runs Carpenter Brook Artisans replaced the siding, ripped out the old carpet and re-painted the plaster walls. It is a beautiful space. I have the joy of a shared garden space, I get to enjoy the clucking of their adorable chickens and just a short walk away is an amazing private beach on a gorgeous river. Could it get any better? Believe it or not the answer is yes.

When I lived the tiny life previously in La Casita it was hard to find photo 2community to live in. Just when I thought it was within reach, one thing or another would keep that dream from coming true. Now, without having planned for it, I live by people who enjoy a similar lifestyle and wish to create community in the ways that matter most, such as growing food together, sharing meals, splitting chores and hosting communal gatherings. I am so grateful to have found this tiny home in Vermont and feel so lucky to be living with people who are caring and supportive. It’s an incredible opportunity and for it to have fallen in to my lap the way it did is pretty remarkable. I suppose it just goes to show that I am destined to live a tiny life.

 

Your Turn!

  • How has the tiny life style found you?

Enough With Excuses

I just got reading an inspiring post fromScreen_Shot_2013-05-23_at_4.33.02_PM Laura LaVoie of Life in 120 Square Feet (you should read it to get an idea about this post).  I thought I’d respond to it in a way and maybe expand upon it from my viewpoint.  It basically sums up so much of what I believe when it comes to tiny houses, a career and life.  It is easy to make excuses for not doing something, to follow the path of least resistance, to settle into complacency, but to our own detriment.  Even today I do this, but I am now more cognizant of it and call myself out on it.

The point is when it comes to making drastic changes, whether building a tiny house, making a career change or some other life altering decision, IT IS HARD.  More acculturate, it is REALLY FREAKING HARD and by hard I mean lots of sleepless nights, tons of work, years of making your way to the goal; The saying  “blood, sweat, and tears” only begins to cover a rough approximation of it.

Right before I started building my tiny house I realized that the only thing that was stopping me from building my tiny house was myself.  I had no idea where I’d live in it, I had no idea how to build, I didn’t know how it would all go down, but I went for it.  When I started, I didn’t know about how the building codes and zoning would work, how I’d get utilities, where I was going to park it, but I decided that I needed to move to action now, because otherwise me saying “someday” would turn into never.

recite-3412-388918378-1iym69What I realized about the changes in my life, career and my housing options was that no matter how scary it would be to change these things, the price of doing nothing was too high.  Living in house loaded with debt, working in a job I hate and in a life left uninspired was not worth it.  To make the changes I have made – and am still making – was the only rational option.

The truth is when I started this journey I was unemployed, loaded with debt, didn’t have any money in the bank or any assets.  Since doubling down on me and my life, I own my tiny house, I should be able to clear all my debt in the next year, I have a job I love done on my terms and I have money in the bank.  What I did was nothing special, the concepts and ideas are already out there for free, you just have to stop making excuses and say “I am the priority and worthy of an epic life”.

So today resolve to make you and your life the priority, to make your life epic.  Realize it is a ton of work, it’s scary, it will take years and after laying all the excuses to rest, you will have a life others only dream of.

Your Turn!

  • What did you do today to achieve your dreams?
  • What excuse have you left behind?
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