New Idea for Affordable Housing

There has been a lot of activity with affordable housing in the last several months.  Although the County is generally responsible for social welfare issues, the new Cobourg Council has allocated budget and support to a couple of projects and more are likely.  But there are also charitable organizations that are active in helping with affordable housing – notably Habitat for Humanity.  Instead of a focus on making rents affordable, Habitat works at promoting affordable home ownership.  And now the local group, Habitat for Humanity Northumberland (HFHN), has announced the establishment of “a chapter of its organization to investigate the development of a tiny homes project in West Northumberland”.  The idea of “Tiny Homes” is spreading throughout the world and could be another way to help with the housing problem faced by those with a low income.

The chapter will be called Think Tiny Homes Northumberland (TTHN) and is chaired by Nicole Beatty.  It will work in partnership with other groups such as the County and according to their Press release, the first pilot project hopes to:

…build a micro village of 10 tiny homes (in Port Hope).  The homes will be managed by HFHN and will follow its ownership model.  There could also be an opportunity for nonprofit partners to purchase a home and use it for their own purposes.  All of this and more will be dependent on feasibility, availability of land, zoning, public engagement, permits and fundraising.

Example of a Tiny Home
Example of a Tiny Home

At top-right is an image of what one might look like.  This one is 400 sq. ft. and made by a U.S. Commercial company.

Habitat for Humanity Northumberland Executive Director Meaghan Macdonald also said:

This is an innovative project for Habitat for Humanity to consider expanding its work in Northumberland while diversifying affordable options in the housing mix. The chapter model follows best practice across Canada but a Habitat chapter dedicated to building affordable tiny homes would be the first of its kind.

They want interested volunteers, businesses and nonprofit agencies to contact them for further information or to get involved with the project.

Generally, the smallest living space allowed in Cobourg seems to be 300 square feet and Tiny homes are often around that size.

But a google search of the concept shows that the idea is not without problems – for example, many solutions involve using mobile homes to get around zoning restrictions and I also wondered why the new group made certain choices. So I asked Meaghan some questions and she was quick to provide answers.

Question Response
Why was Port Hope chosen as the location? The original citizens group convened in Port Hope after feeling that there is a gap in affordable housing options in the municipality.  Based on the success of the pilot the TTHN chapter would hope to expand the housing model across the County.
What’s the difference between mobile homes and Tiny homes? For the purpose of this project TTHN is defining a tiny house to be a maximum square footage of 650 square feet.  Tiny homes are built to reflect the quality of a normal house but on a smaller scale.  The tiny homes created for this pilot micro village will not be mobile.
Is there any connection with the County’s effort to provide affordable housing? TTHN is committed to coordinating and aligning projects with the County’s affordable housing strategy.  
Are Tiny homes currently allowed by housing regulations?  Will your committee have to campaign for an exception? Seeking the necessary zoning and by-law approvals will be essential to the success of this project.  This is a key priority as part of TTHN’s feasibility plan.

It certainly seems to be an innovative idea and should appeal to many – even if it’s only a starting point.

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Keith Oliver
1 June 2019 9:32 pm

When trying to think outside the box and the idea of building what amounts to a new form of housing it’s important to include new ideas that come under the banner of planning, and the consequences thereof. Tiny single family homes on individual lots will only perpetuate Cobourg’s other problem which is low density sprawl. It’s the reason we will never have a viable downtown or a transit system that is frequent, affordable and free of government subsidies that exceed 25 percent of its operating cost. St Peter’s Court is very fine but impractable in is use of land. We didn’t consider the larger impact 50 years ago. The design of the units in clusters if grouped so as to reach the accepted net minimum density of 32 units per hectare iñ support of public transit is key. Talk of higher densities gets people nervous. Yet when they return from their European vacation the first thing they show everyone are photos of quaint old villages where cars aren’t necessary, the public life is rich and densities are well above 32 uph.

Walter Luedtke
Reply to  Keith Oliver
2 June 2019 8:11 am

I take your point about density, Keith.
But I would be interested in your thoughts about this project.
https://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/okotoks-tiny-home-project-entering-phase-one?fbclid=IwAR0pImJKniwcmD1b_0eXdEPZnrw1liNlgSCsHJjE6yGLTOjDpEShcqdcmx4

Keith Oliver
Reply to  Walter Luedtke
2 June 2019 9:09 am

Walter Luedtke refers to the 42+ unit project in Okotoks, (Calgary?) as reported in the Calgary Herald. … It appears to address the problem of residential density by clustering the units into four unit structures, otherwise known as townhouses.. Makes enormous sence since the smaller the floor area of a single, free standing dwelling, the greater the ratio between exterior wall area and useable floor space, and therefore the greater the heat loss per square foot. Doesn’t matter how well the exterior walls or roof are insulated. Best exterior wall is one your unit shares with another … where there is no energy transfer, ie either heat transfer out in Winter or in in Summer. I believe the passion for single family homes is based on our need for identity of self or of the family, a social factor that is greater in the US and less in Europe. The real problem in this movement achieving all its goals which includes greater energy efficiency, may be in the name Tiny Homes. Implies single family units. What about “Dwellings For All”? Names are important.

Walter Luedtke
Reply to  Keith Oliver
2 June 2019 3:09 pm

How about ‘tiny rooms’ affordable housing?
Keith, an interesting article about ‘buy-to-rent (let)’ in Peterborough, UK, in The Guardian.
There, entrepreneurs bought up privatized public housing during the recession.
They subdivided 3-bedroom homes into five-room rental housing.
Now one ‘buy-to-rent’ landlord owns 500 properties across Peterborough and others are following his example. He teaches a course on how to cash in on the ‘Buy-To-Let-Boom’.
You could call this the ‘tiny room’ approach to affordable housing.
Peterborough UK has suffered profound changes to its social fabric, caused in part by the march of ‘buy-to-let property investors’, the retreat of the London government from providing housing for the working class and ever-shrinking funding for maintaining the fabric of neighbourhoods.
To be fair, the government has tried to clamp down on ‘buy-to-let’ by removing tax deductions of mortgage interest on buy-to-let properties. The effect of this effort – a huge drop in rental accommodation and sky-high rent increases, making it attractive for investors to get back into the game even without the tax relief.
Ya can’t win!

Wally Keeler
Reply to  Keith Oliver
2 June 2019 1:45 pm

It’s spacious alright. I do note that thee density could have been doubled and the compound would still provide same service. I guess that was best practices at the time.

Dubious
Reply to  Keith Oliver
2 June 2019 3:14 pm

Tiny single family homes on individual lots will only perpetuate Cobourg’s other problem which is low density.

Perhaps you and a few others consider it a problem but many of us live in Cobourg because of your perceived “problem”. For those who want high density there are other towns that provide as much density as one could desire!
BTW the taxpayer subsidy for the Cobourg bus service is far more than 25%.

Keith Oliver
Reply to  Dubious
3 June 2019 7:56 am

Dubious … The fact that successful retail centers and efficient public transit need customers in sufficient numbers to succeed is a fact and not a matter of choice or bias against single family housing. The fact that 32 dwellings per hectare is the minimum residential density needed to support a viable transit system has been asserted for decades by the American Association of Traffic Engineers. That goal is achievable in a mix of single and low rise multi-unit housing depending on the ratio between the two. In most Cobourg residential areas that ratio and subsequent choice does not exist. Regarding the 25 percent government subsidy I said that without the minimum density “we will never be free of government subsidies that exceed 25 percent of operating costs” and in that regard I was being generous. Toronto Transit which is one of the most efficient in North America relies on a 35 percent subsidy to pay operating costs.

Dubious
Reply to  Keith Oliver
3 June 2019 8:42 am

Keith, you were definitely being generous regarding the subsidy. Using the numbers in the latest Cobourg transit study the taxpayer subsidy is over 80%! The reported annual costs were about $810K with revenue from riders of only $135K.

Dubious
Reply to  Keith Oliver
3 June 2019 8:54 am

The fact that successful retail centers and efficient public transit need customers in sufficient numbers to succeed is a fact and not a matter of choice or bias against single family housing.

Desiring retail centres and public transit reflect the lifestyle choices of some rather than being necessities. They hardly justify demanding densification to the detriment of our lovely small community.

Kyle
1 June 2019 1:18 pm

A friend bought a tiny house here in Ontario and had it shipped to BC in order to deal with the incredible real estate costs there. Unfortunately they have not been able to find a permanent location to put it for almost two years. They indicated one problem is the cost of services on a lot. More separate services per lot increases costs.

Wally Keeler
1 June 2019 11:07 am

One of the greatest places of tiny homes in Cobourg is St Peter’s Court Apartments. It was in-fill. Each building unit in the shape of a plus sign contains four bachelor flats all accessible and affordable. Not a tool shed nor trailer, but affordable bachelor apartments and a few one bedroom flats. It’s for the growing abundance of retired folks. But the concept is tiny and it works very well.

Miriam Mutton
Reply to  Wally Keeler
1 June 2019 12:42 pm

A similar model of a 4-plex reminiscent of St. Peter’s Court has been (and continues to be) replicated successfully (although larger foot print units) in the Parkview Hills neighbourhood in Cobourg.

I checked out the links to builder sites mentioned here promoting tiny homes. The promotional drawings show a tiny house on a large lot and with no neighbours. One even shows a separate garage almost as big as the tiny house next to it. There are also some great videos on Youtube about tiny homes. In a nutshell, it comes down to a well designed modular unit (made in a shop to reduce material waste and control quality) that can be used in combination and is transportable but not permanently set on a trailer with wheels. Can also include recycled ‘boxes’ like some types of shipping containers. Think new age mobile home park with options, set in parkland like setting and accessible to daily needs like grocery stores without needing a personal car.

Would be interesting to know the square foot cost of the proposed tiny home subdivision, including land and servicing, as other posters here have noted.

Walter Luedtke
1 June 2019 9:48 am

Looks to be a coming thing!
https://haysfreepress.com/2018/01/17/tiny-homes-big-project-developer-eyes-tiny-home-project-west-of-kyle/
According to Forbes Magazine:
“Although tiny homes may be a niche market, ResearchAndMarket.com forecasts it to grow globally at a compound annual growth rate of 6.99% between 2018 and 2022. There are dozens of tiny home designers, manufacturers, and builders based in every state, and as the two largest population cohorts — retiring boomers and younger (Millennial), first-time buyers — seek to find homes, tiny might just be the answer.”
Sometimes less is more.

perplexed
1 June 2019 8:45 am

Lets save a lot of money and buy them from Home Hardware They are Prefab less labour and units this size are called TOOL SHEDs This is a Volume / numbers thing we need housing now we have talked to long — not over 5 to 10 yrs If we truly have to go this way then Bring back Mobile home parks 60 to 80 units at a time , and deal with the issue of numbers and needy population the units are much larger easily serviced it works every where else They are purpose built equipped and for those that have not been in one lately Fantastic interiors and layouts .you should see what you can Buy in Florida these days and yes they are winterized for our climate . Infill Lots are not cheap especially if zoned for Multi Res $170,000.– ++– maybe 60 ft X 150 ft , where the town could take a larger chunk of say industrial land at $70,000. — per acre 200 x 220 ft from inventory and zone it quickly for a mobile home development with common element streets and services which would be less costly to install as well . Prefab… Read more »

John Hill
1 June 2019 8:30 am

One aspect of the imposition of rent controls almost 50 years ago is that developers are now building condos rather than rental complexes. The rental market is very small and many people just can’t come up with a downpayment for residential property. If the tiny house project is approved it could assist in reducing homelessness in the County. My only concern is that placing all these units in one municipality and on one tract of land could result in creating a ghetto for the poor. I think Habitat for Humanity is to be congratulated for proposing an innovative concept.

perplexed
Reply to  John Hill
1 June 2019 8:49 am

It is what it is you can’t hide the affects of Poverty and Need camouflage it maybe
for a while

ben
Reply to  John Hill
1 June 2019 3:19 pm

Infilling in a ghetto for the poor didn’t bother the County, they just made the ghetto bigger when they set up their plans on Elgin St.

Durka
31 May 2019 5:28 pm

Great idea. Some people don’t need a lot of space but would enjoy the benefits of detached housing such as not having adjoining walls to your neighbour, having a yard, ability to garden, plant flowers, etc.

Mark
31 May 2019 1:35 pm

What a complete waste of money,
it would cost a lot money to bring services compared to an apartment building holding the same amount of people
Tiny homes are nothing more than fancy trailers

Wally Keeler
Reply to  Mark
31 May 2019 3:06 pm

I grew up in a tiny house; 23 Chapel Street. It was more than a fancy trailer. It was a home. All of my friends that I grew up with in Cobourg all lived in larger homes, with full basements, rec rooms, etc. Growing up in this small town means that when I bike the streets, I can say that over a lifetime I have been inside many many many homes. The streets were teeming with baby boomers. We played together, dated together, matured for the most part, but there was absolutely nothing about growing up in a tiny house that was detrimental to my life, except for the minor irritant of condescending snobs, few and far between, thankfully.

Tiny homes is a great concept. Amherst Village is filled with homes that I regard as bloated. But there is enough affluence amongst many who want to buy bloat for whatever reason they fancy. Go for it. And tiny homes, go for it, I highly recommend it, especially for those with accessibility issues, or single mothers, or widows or widower.

Mark
Reply to  Wally Keeler
31 May 2019 4:07 pm

For affordable house today , you need to look at cost, these house are not cost efficient once you include land and services

My first house was a wartime story and a half , they are probably no more than 800 sqft bought with our own money for a family of 6 , that was in in 1981 , not 1931 , my kids grew up on powder milk, because interest rate rates were 20%
If you want something sometimes you need to make sacrifices with your lifestyle

Wally Keeler
Reply to  Mark
31 May 2019 4:26 pm

Stashing the poor into an apartment building is tantamount to shelving them. A tiny house offers a sense of home, of autonomy, independence, part of a neighbourhood, in short, community. Being disabled is not a lifestyle choice. Being a widow is not a lifestyle choice. And the few and far between condescending snobs want to shelve them in slots just to save a dime.

Dan
Reply to  Wally Keeler
1 June 2019 5:16 pm

Almost everybody in my generation that I know not only has literally zero expectation of ever owning a home, they also have zero desire to own a home. What we want is acceptable, affordable rentals of good quality. Our communities are more often international and online, and not the family two doors down, so a sense of being ‘part of a neighborhood’ is not high on the priority list of most anyone I know.

Arthur
Reply to  Dan
1 June 2019 5:50 pm

Dan I think most people want own a home. Sounds like you are trying to convince yourself you do not want one more than anything. I say this as I sit in my backyard beside my pond with the birds chirping and so on. Who doesn’t want to own a little plot of this great earth to shape in their own vision?

Dan
Reply to  Arthur
2 June 2019 11:48 pm

When you were told growing up by everybody in authority around you that if you worked hard, and got a university degree you could get a good steady career job, racked up 20-50,000 dollars of debt to do so, and then entered the world of unpaid internships, one-year contracts, and have worked in 4 or 5 ‘career’ jobs by the time you’re 30, you have some pretty strong disincentives to spend a bunch of money and go deeper into dept to buy yourself some property in a town where you may lose your job a year later and be forced to relocate.

I’m not sure how reporting (sure anecdotes) but anecdotes representing a pretty broad cross-section of people in my cohort is me ‘trying to convince myself’

If we could have done what we were told we could, and graduated University into a career job in our field where we could work for years, instead of being lucky to scrape together enough for the ever-increasing price of rent while we pay off our loans, maybe it would be different, but there’s a pretty fundamental shift in “life goals” between Millennials and the generations previous to them, especially their Boomer parents.

Arthur
Reply to  Dan
3 June 2019 9:02 am

Dan, I am 33.

Dan
Reply to  Arthur
3 June 2019 11:18 am

And so? I know plenty of millennials in your situation, they are just vastly outnumbered by the ones who aren’t. Most people I know in this cohort have accepted on basically never owning a house, and never being able to retire.

Arthur
Reply to  Dan
3 June 2019 12:41 pm

You were talking to me as if I were a boomer. I simply disagree with you that people do not want to own homes, rather, I believe, it is they cannot own homes, mainly do to affordability.

I was lucky to get in the market before things got crazy. If not, we would not be able to afford home at todays prices. I would still wish to own a home realizing that I couldn’t however

Dan
Reply to  Arthur
3 June 2019 1:18 pm

Certainly possible I assumed you were a boomer, since that is true of a solid 90% of commentors on this blog.

And you are absolutely allowed to have always wanted to own a home, I was reporting on the experience of the strong majority of my millennial friends who, even if it were affordable, don’t desire home ownership.

Arthur
Reply to  Dan
3 June 2019 2:37 pm

I find the opposite to be true. Everyone where I work is trying to save up to buy a home. They won’t be able to afford one in Cobourg but are looking further out in places like Trent Hills. I maintain that most who say they don’t want one are those trying to convince themselves of that. In an ideal world who would not want a house?

Dan
Reply to  Arthur
3 June 2019 7:49 pm

Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, most of which will be accrued debt that needs repaying at interest in the -not- ideal world which is the one where we live can be anywhere from “uninteresting” to “extremely foolish”

Would people in an ideal world where the house is something they can afford, given their actual living salary at their career job that is secure and steady be more likely to want to own a house? Sure.

But in the world where they’re underemployed, underpaid, have next to no security, and prices keep climbing and climbing? I think a lot of people have decided to focus their goals in other directions.

ben
Reply to  Mark
1 June 2019 5:51 am

If these houses are built in the Town on infill lots your argument is shot to pieces!

Dan
Reply to  Wally Keeler
1 June 2019 5:14 pm

That house, as is, would probably today sell for 250,000 dollars.

Max LeMarchant
Reply to  Wally Keeler
4 June 2019 3:54 pm

Wally, you might find it interesting that New Amherst is building “Tiny Homes” 610 square feet in complement to the other varieties of homes offered in the village to meet the variety of different peoples needs and desires

ben
Reply to  Max LeMarchant
4 June 2019 4:04 pm

So Max if these houses are one third the size of an average house are they two thirds cheaper?

Keith Oliver
Reply to  Max LeMarchant
4 June 2019 5:09 pm

Hello Max … Where are the New Amherst Tiny Homes.?

Merry Mary
Reply to  Mark
4 June 2019 8:58 am

Tiny Homes are a brilliant concept; long overdue. There is firsthand knowledge and experience with the problems of the mechanicals/services for multi-storey, multi-level “apartment units.”