09/16 Kalamazoo’s First Tiny House May Change Housing Laws

Habitat for Humanity volunteers pouring the foundation for Ben Brown's tiny house.

Habitat for Humanity volunteers finished pouring the foundation at the site of Ben Brown’s tiny house. Behind it is Brown’s garden shed, not that much smaller than the house itself. Photo by Rebecca Thiele

The City of Kalamazoo is considering changing its housing laws to accommodate tiny houses. These homes are often less than 400 square feet and use things like built-in tables to maximize space. Recent reality TV shows and documentaries have made living small seem chic. Some say tiny houses could be a more affordable option for people living on a small income.

Ben Brown is excited as he shows me around his future home in Kalamazoo’s Eastside neighborhood. He says it fits well within his budget.

“I know I can not only pay it off, I can have savings – and it doesn’t have to look like a shack. It can actually be palatial, a castle, a palace,” he says.

Once it’s built, the house will be less than 270 square feet. Search for studio apartments in Kalamazoo and it’d be hard to find anything less than 300 feet.

Monica Priest is the development director at the Kalamazoo Valley Habitat for Humanity, which is helping Brown build the home. Priest says they’re hoping that this house will be the first of many tiny houses that they build in Kalamazoo. She says it could be a good option for people who are low-income or even homeless. It’s also new – a luxury very few disadvantaged people get in Kalamazoo…

City Planner Rebekah Kik says, as far as she knows, there are no illegal tiny houses in Kalamazoo. There aren’t as many restrictions on tiny homes in Kalamazoo as you might think.

Kik says you can build a house as small as 120 square feet in the city. As long as it isn’t on wheels, you can put it pretty much anywhere in the city. That is, providing you have a big yard.

“We do have minimum lot size requirements through our zoning and I believe it starts at 5,000 square feet. So that’s a pretty big lot size to find to put a tiny houses on,” says Kik.

Land can be expensive. So that isn’t ideal for someone trying to save money on a home. Kik says there also aren’t a lot of open 5,000 square foot lots in the city. The other problem – “accessory dwelling units” aren’t allowed. “And that’s fancy speak for putting a tiny house in your backyard and maybe even having it for your mother-in-law, or one of your grandparents, or even your college student, or having it available for rental.So that’s another page we’d really like to open up,” says Kik.

Kik says the city is trying to organize some kind of community forum to gauge public opinion on tiny houses.

Read more – http://wmuk.org/post/kalamazoo-s-first-tiny-house-may-change-housing-laws


Elaine Walker