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article imageOp-Ed: Are micro-homes the answer to housing for homeless and elderly?

By Karen Graham     Nov 5, 2015 in Business
In Tokyo, Washington, D.C. and other cities around the world, tiny homes are being constructed as an answer to the shortage of affordable housing. But how easy will it be to make tiny homes available to the homeless and elderly?
Earlier this year, Digital Journal featured a story on the "micro-living" movement taking hold around the world, describing it as a mixing of architectural style and social movement, aimed at living simply and leaving less impact on the environment.
At the time, micro-houses were being touted as not only economical, costing far less than a modern-day home, but a possible solution to homes for the nation's homeless population, the elderly on fixed incomes, and low-income families. And this was actually tried in hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans quite successfully.
Roadblocks to micro-housing abound
But something strange has been happening in the past several months that has put the feasibility of micro-living on a slightly different course, a course that will leave the homeless, low-income and elderly out in the cold. While tiny homes are considered innovative and require creative solutions in adapting appliances and other creature comforts to less than 750 square feet of living space, technology, developers and city ordinances have stepped into the picture.
Micro-homes have a lot of advantages.
Micro-homes have a lot of advantages.
Grig Stamate
An interesting article in Digital Journal last year talked about the roadblocks facing the tiny home movement. Among them are the many bureaucratic roadblocks to overcome, from planning commissions, land use regulations, housing commissions and more. And we haven't touched on sewer, water, and electrical lines that need to be added to a new development.
In Washington, D.C., At-Large Council-member Vincent Orange recently introduced a bill that envisions 1,000 mini-homes in the District, 150 in each of D.C.'s eight wards. The bill specified that the homes would be available to millennials and low-income residents and those making the minimum wage between the ages of 18 to 33.
According to the proposed bill, each home would be no less than 600 square feet, would be stationary, have at least one bedroom and one bathroom, a kitchen, electricity, a heating system, and plumbing. As of this week, the proposed bill has been met with outright ridicule, and that is really sad to see. Probably the worst comment came from Orange political opponent David Garber, who told the Washington City Paper that tiny houses are "gimmicky affordable housing solutions."
Tiny homes in the nation s capital face a number of legal challenges that may keep them out of the D...
Tiny homes in the nation's capital face a number of legal challenges that may keep them out of the District.
Meghan Ray
In the case of Orange's housing solution, there are of course, other obstacles like finding a place to put 1,000 tiny houses, as well as getting a construction company to build them within the price range specified in the legislation, which says each home would cost no more than $50,000 to construct and to buy, reports Curbed DC. Keep in mind that the elderly and homeless have been excluded from the bill.
High-end high-rise mini-housing in Tokyo
Tokyo, Japan is home to 13 million people and is considered one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Land in Tokyo costs about $1,000 per square foot today, an increase of 5.8 percent over last year, so living space in this high-rise city is at a premium. For a home builder, there is also the rise in construction costs as well as a decades long economic stagnation to deal with.
Tokyo is an architect's dream. Building tiny homes that favor a minimalist-style of living also allows them to be creative, not only in the use of space but in the multi-purposing of that space. We're talking about homes of far less than 500 square feet, and more like 322 square feet in size. Some homes today have closets bigger than that. But the Japanese have unique ways of making living spaces look larger than they really are.
And making small spaces look larger is the real genius of these homes, says Tokyo architect Yasuhiro Yamashita told NPR, "People tend to think of homes simply in terms of floor space. We architects think in 3-D." He adds, "Using all three dimensions, we can make a space look larger, and more functional. It becomes easier to devise ways of bringing in more light and air."
Completed in 1972  the Nakagin Capsule Towers is a 5 minute walk from the Ginza. Only 30 of the 120 ...
Completed in 1972, the Nakagin Capsule Towers is a 5 minute walk from the Ginza. Only 30 of the 120 capsules are in use today.
So how much does a tiny house cost in Tokyo? In 2013, the Daily Mail ran a story on "geki-sema," or share houses in Tokyo. Mostly used by young professionals, the tiny cubicles are only large enough for one person and a few possessions. The cost per month? How does £400 (US$608) a month sound?
Are mini-homes the answer to our housing problems?
Let's look at a few statistics. First of all, there are an estimated 633,782 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the US. Then we can add the unemployed and under-employed to the picture. These people, numbering over 10 million, also have housing concerns.
A homeless man sleeping in a parking lot (San Francisco  USA).
A homeless man sleeping in a parking lot (San Francisco, USA).
Franco Folini
The number of families spending more than 50 percent of their income on rent or mortgages numbers over 6.5 million households. Additionally, 49 million live in food-insecure households, and this number includes many of our elderly. So, can mini-homes help?
There are solutions, and it's just a matter of putting them into action, rather than thinking of how many ways they won't work. It would be interesting to hear some of our readers ideas on the subject.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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