Affordable housing is hard to find in the San Francisco Bay Area.
I knew this before we moved back here, but it still hit me hard when I began to approach the market, especially coming from the very reasonable and lovely Sacramento region.
One recent afternoon, my toddler asleep in my arms and thoughts of despair creeping through my mind about never finding an affordable place to live, I desperately googled “off-grid sustainable living bay area.”
I found a great article about a woman in Marin who moved into a “tiny house” to escape the great housing crisis and live more in-sync with the environment. I was intrigued.
I remember hearing about the “tiny house movement” a few years ago, and also having largely dismissed it as a ridiculous fad where people seemed to pride themselves on living in a closet-size space, picking up their clothing at the dry cleaners, and showering at the gym on their way to work.
But, now that I’m looking for a place to live in the Bay Area, it’s another story.
For us to buy a home, we’d be chaining ourselves to a mortgage we can’t really afford and having to count every penny each month. Not appealing. On the flip side, the rentals I’ve seen so far have been unappealing, usually right off busy main roads, and nearly as expensive as a mortgage. Not a welcoming living environment.
The same article led me to a company that builds and sells beautiful mobile tiny houses, and I fell in love with them. The homes are officially categorized as non-motorized RVs, but they look like beautiful cabins with large windows, tons of natural light, and all the amenities I could dream of for a sustainable home- solar panels, low-energy appliances, composting toilet, etc.
The price-point was $60-70k, which is less than the cost of a 20% down payment + closing costs on the homes I’ve seen for sale in the East Bay. I read about people building their own tiny homes for much less (in the range of $20-30k), but that was beyond the scope of what I was looking for.
I began to dream about taking up the tiny life.
We could buy a tiny home, get rid of all our excess stuff, find a community of people living the mobile/tiny life, share a community garden where we’d grow our own produce… Our footprint would be so much smaller, our living costs would be minimal, and we could afford to focus not on working to scrape by but on working for a higher purpose.
For me, of course, the dream is applying my time to addressing climate change and helping us all move to a sustainable future.
After learning a great deal about the benefits and challenges of tiny home living from bloggers and the vast tiny home community, I realized a few things:
1) This is an amazing option for the future of sustainable living. Environmentally friendly homes with a minimal footprint that can withstand severe weather and are generally mobile – check, check, check, check. Add the community garden and other community amenities and it seems to me you’ve got it all.
2) I especially love the idea of the tiny home being mobile, because the future just seems too uncertain- I have a hard time wanting to bolt ourselves down to a big property that could reasonably get ravaged by wild fires, flood, and/or mud slides.
3) Unfortunately, many places (including the Bay Area) do not yet make it easy to live in a tiny home. Finding somewhere that you can legally park and live in your tiny home seems like the biggest hurdle, with a variety of building code and neighborhood beautification issues. Without having done exhaustive research, the easiest way forward seems to be owning land (in the right county), and then parking the tiny home there. But for us, that would still seem to present the hurdle of a mortgage to purchase the land, which is beyond our means right now.
After dwelling on the idea for a few weeks, I concluded that a tiny home is probably not the right fit for us at the moment. There is the significant parking challenge, and I’m also not sure that living in 400 square feet would totally work for our family right now.
I’m keeping this idea on the shelf but it was encouraging to realize that I could see myself and my family living in a smaller space than the classic American dream home, with less stuff, for less cost, in a way that would be significantly more sustainable and in tune with the environment.
For now, I’ll hold on to the dream of little communities of beautiful, compact, mobile, environmentally-friendly “tiny” homes. I hope the idea inspires some of you out there, too.