People on Nantucket are no strangers to moving their homes. For hundreds of years, homeowners have moved buildings like chess pieces, strategically from one spot to another on the 48-square mile island. Now, construction manager Isaiah Stover aims to add a new page to this history.
His idea? Tiny, movable houses.
Stover submitted a citizen’s petition for the annual spring town meeting warrant to allow small dwellings built on movable trailers. He petitioned to allow tiny houses in most residential zoning districts on the island. These houses would be subject to all building, zoning and regulatory requirements of their districts, but would be built on trailers to move easily around the island. The title of the tiny home would remain with the owner of the building, not with the owner of the land where it is parked.
The warrant article passed and is now set for review by Attorney General Maura Healey. Stover said the article is the first of its kind in the state, although other towns, like Hadley, are not far behind.
This is the second time Stover brought the article to town meeting, and he said he is working on another proposal that would allow for villages of tiny homes.
Mobile homes aren’t allowed on the island, town Health Director Roberto Santamaria said, and this new rule will still prohibit them.
Nantucket is full of tiny whaling cottages, and the only difference, Stover said, is that his tiny homes are going to have a few tires. Modifications can be made to hide the wheels, or perhaps, store them in a tiny basement, he said with a laugh. If the measure is approved by Healey, Stover says he hopes these tiny houses can be a new weapon to fight the affordable housing crisis that has plagued his hometown for years.
It’s no secret that Nantucket has an affordable housing problem. Year-rounders who don’t own a home often get lost in the “Nantucket shuffle,” where they must find other accommodations for the summer when property owners can collect much higher rents.
This leaves people like Kathleen FitzPatrick, a 30-year-old with a 9-year-old son, or Stover, who has a pair of dogs, in a bind to find affordable housing.
“They can rent to a single person with no pets, no kids,” Stover said. “They don’t even need to look at you.”
“It’s almost a rite of passage,” said FitzPatrick, who is in the process of moving for the eighth time in two years.
And for most, with the median price hovering around $1.2 million, owning a home on Nantucket isn’t an option.
But tiny houses, which can be built for as little as $20,000, present a new option.
These homes on wheels have significant hurdles; they have to meet the state’s comprehensive building code, which requires 120 square feet of habitable space per person, Santamaria said.
The island’s cottages can be about the same size as some of the tiny houses, but the design of some tiny homes makes it tough to pass building codes.
“The main issue is using the loft area for a bedroom,” town Planning Director Andrew Vorce said, because most don’t meet the height restrictions of the building code.
The houses also must get approval from the local zoning board and historic district commission.