Nothing beats the view from Carolyn Hesseltine’s porch. Just outside Terrace, B.C., she can watch the morning sun move over the mountains across the Kalum river.
At 67, the self-proclaimed outdoor-loving wanderer had been looking for a place to put down roots. She found the opportunity in Bluegrass Meadows Micro Village – a cluster of small homes with shared communal space, including laundry and a dining hall. Her 320-square-foot home has a kitchen/living space, a loft for overnight guests and a bedroom just big enough for a queen-size bed. But Hesseltine didn’t have much in the way of material possessions to begin with, so she didn’t give the size a second thought.
Micro-home communities, like Bluegrass or the soon-to-be-built Habitat Multi Generation in Lantier, Que., are attracting attention nationwide. A property in rural Abbotsford, B.C., is proposing a tiny house co-op that will include a five-acre farm. Municipalities such as different as Yellowknife and Victoria are exploring the concept, while many Ontarians are sharing information about locations through tinyhouseontario.com. But, many of these tiny villages face huge challenges, often derailed by red tape and a patchwork regulation system.
After getting a job as a health-care aid worker in Terrace, which is 1,500 km north of Vancouver, Hesseltine says she struggled to find affordable housing in town, which had a vacancy rate of zero in 2013. She spent three years in a boarding house, and while she loved the camaraderie, she wanted her own space. When Bluegrass held an open house, she jumped.
Fifteen homes have been built since October, ranging from 200 to 500 square feet, says Ally Blake, who handles marketing and communication for Hummingbird, the firm behind Bluegrass. By year’s end, there will be 30 houses. There is a wait-list, and Hummingbird has had to turn people away, she says. Beyond the novelty of living small, the homes are affordable, with list prices at approximately $46,000 (compared to Terrace’s average of about $300,000) and rental rates at $795 a month. Hummingbird is exploring other regions, owner Ted Allsopp says.
But Bluegrass’s success might be the exception. Around the country, people trying to set up these communities face regulatory hurdles, from sewage and water connection (some people want to live off grid), prejudice against tiny homes on wheels — many are designed to be portable — and minimum-size requirements.
“If you tried to do this any other place (than Terrace), you’d probably spend years trying to get through the red tape,” Allsopp says.