Given Tofino’s longtime agonizing over our affordable housing crisis — played out for years as summer staffing shortages, now escalating to the threat of school closure — it’s interesting that tiny houses have not been looked at as part of the solution.
As far as i know, there’s a minimum square footage requirement on habitations in the district. (Can anybody confirm that?) Which, combined with the price of land on the West Coast, pretty much guarantees that truly affordable housing cannot be achieved within the free market paradigm. Hence the resulting contortions of the Tofino Housing Corporation, now five years and some $300,000 into its mandate (per this Westerly News article), with groundbreaking for the first units now set to start early in 2010.
I see it as a “rung” effect: For an affordable-housing strategy to be effective, you can’t just build a handful of units and fill them up, because then everything comes to a stop and the affordable housing issues reappear. Affordable housing has to be seen as the introductory rung on the accommodation ladder. The idea is that, once people have built up some equity in the affordable house, they can use that to move up to market housing, thereby freeing up their affordable unit to enable others to hop onto the ladder.
But with entry-level market condos starting at $265,000, and houses at $349,000 (figures from realtor.ca), it seems that most Tofitians — with a 2006 median income of $22,696, per the community facts page from BC Stats — will find even the lowest of existing rungs out of reach.
I’m not being critical here, just pointing out that the system the THC is working within does not lend itself to quick solutions. It does lend itself to ghettoized affordable housing, clumped together in one area, and not spread out through the village (which strikes me as a superior approach).
Tiny houses have evolved into a well developed field of design, and can be eminently liveable for one or two people. There are a slew of websites devoted to the subject. One of the best is TinyHouseDesign.com. From that site, here are the free plans for an 8′ x 16′ Tiny Solar House (4.9 Meg PDF download) — a 128-square-foot gem that (the plans say) could be built for $4-8,000 US. That would go a long way toward getting some people, at least, off the money-pit of renting and onto the escalator of ownership.