Can tiny houses help solve Ventura County’s woes?

Vina Lustado coming out of her tiny house

Vina Lustado coming out of her tiny house

As Ventura County, California struggles with high home prices, expensive rentals and little room to build, some advocates are proposing a solution: tiny homes that fit living essentials into less than 400 square feet of space.

Last week, about 50 people gathered at the Ventura County Government Center for a workshop about the benefits of tiny homes, ways they can be incorporated into a community’s housing stock and regulatory changes that can help make that happen.

Dan Fitzpatrick, California Chapter Leader of the American Tiny House Association, led the workshop along with members of The Tiny House Collaborative, a coalition of tiny house enthusiasts. The presenters said tiny homes are one solution to the affordable housing crisis in Ventura and elsewhere, particularly for single people and couples.

“Tiny is the next big thing,” said Fitzpatrick, who indicated tiny homes are a popular option for millennials struggling to afford traditional housing, and also baby boomers looking to downsize. “It is sweeping across the country.”

Tiny homes are typically built on wheels so they can be moved, and they come in a variety of designs. They are different from mobile homes and recreational vehicles because of their size, and because they’re designed to look like regular houses, only smaller, Fitzpatrick explained. The design flexibility means communities can require tiny homes to look like other houses in the neighborhood, he noted.

Affordability is a key advantage of tiny homes, advocates said. While the average home price in Ventura County is around $500,000, a tiny home would cost between $85,000 and $90,000 to build and connect to utilities if located on the same property as a regular house, Fitzpatrick said. The homes could also be rented out for about $725 a month, he said, much lower than the county’s average apartment rental price of more than $1,700 a month.

Fitzpatrick outlined how local governments can make it legal for property owners to have tiny homes in their backyards as second dwelling units. For the most part, that’s currently not possible in Ventura County, although the city of Ojai is studying how it might change that. It’s up to local governments to make those adjustments, Fitzpatrick said.

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Elaine Walker

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