Can tiny houses help solve the affordable housing crisis? – Video, slides, notes, and further reading


On Tuesday, I gave a talk at the Bauhaus-Campus entitled “Can tiny houses help solve the affordable housing crisis?” This provocative title was intentional – I wanted to get a good, critical discussion going. And we did! The talk and the discussion that followed covered not only tiny houses and affordable housing, but also urban commons (including the Kickstarter for our new publication, The Urban Commons Cookbook), new housing and living typologies, and housing provision for a large number of groups (large swaths of society, the homeless, people who have lost their homes due to foreclosure).

You can download the slides here. I have annotated the video (which you can watch in its full length above or on Facebook here) so that you can jump to different topics and given some extra links and comments with time stamps below.

0:00 – 25:00: my talk! 🙂

Then we opened the floor to discussion…

25:00 – 27:00: Here’s an English-language link to the tiny house we’re talking about in the beginning of the discussion, the Tiny100:

27:00 – 30:00 : Comments on social housing provision and construction in international comparison and the potential role of new housing typologies in slab housing estates.

30:00 – 35:15: We start discussing what “affordable housing” is and how one might calculate an appropriate rental price for a tiny house; Leonardo goes into some of the specific issues that need to be considered in tiny houses (30:00 – 32:20). I start to define “affordable housing” (32:20 – 34:00) and discuss the disparities between income levels and rent levels in the city (34:15 – 35:15).

Here’s an article in German about household income rates in Berlin from the last microcensus: I was pretty spot-on. The average household income before taxes in Berlin according to that article is 3,010€.

And here’s another article in German about rent cost burden (income-rent price disparity) in inner-German comparison:

35:15 – 37:45: Homesteaders, housing choice and privilege – it’s an issue!

Here’s an article about diversity problems in co-housing projects in the US, for example:

You can also read more about it in one of my past articles here: Improving the diversity of civic participation in urban planning – challenges & opportunities

The book I mentioned around 37:00 is called “The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class

37:45 – 43:55: Back to appropriate pricing for tiny houses in the urban context and housing price changes in the Berlin housing market over the last decade (37:45 – 40:00). Could a new category for tiny houses be a solution to keep their higher per-square-meter prices from negatively affecting the mandated rent price (Mietspiegel)? Discussion about furnished flats as a “special category” exempt from rent controls, what that can mean for their rent prices and potential effects on nearby houses. (40:00 – 42:45). I mention again how affordability has to do with income potential (42:45 – 43:30).

43:30 – 51:15: Can tiny houses be used to help address other issues like homelessness and people who have lost their homes due to foreclosure? Discussion of the legal barriers to building tiny housing (45:00 – 46:15). Homelessness in San Francisco & the US in general (46:15 – 48:45). We also discuss the differences between the American & German systems for the needy (50:00 – 51:15).

I talk about a project to help people who have suffered foreclosure around 49:00 – 50:00. The project is in fact located in Baltimore:

If you want to know more about food insecurity in Connecticut (50:30 – 51:15), check out this link:

51:15 – 54:45: Low-income households and tiny houses, sharing economy, and how tiny housing typologies could be adapted for different household types (families with children, the elderly).

Here’s more about the “Co-Being House” (54:00) in English:

And in German:

54:45 – 58:00: Modularization & spatial flexibility to accommodate various household types and living needs.

I talked about a book called CUBITY (54:45 – 57:15), which involved modular housing cubes inside a plus-energy building envelope. Check out the book at Jovis Verlag in German and English here.

58:00 – 65:45: There was a question/comment on the live stream on Facebook about tiny house costs & ventilation which Leonardo answered (58:00 – 61:00). At 61:00, I compared the square meter purchase price of aVOID to the current housing purchase prices in Berlin. Leo went into the various considerations behind the costs (61:00 – 62:40), then I did a quick financing calculation based on Leo’s estimate that aVOID cost 40,000€ and explained how the housing market in the city is changing from a city of renters to people buying apartments (62:40 – 65:45).

65:45 – 68:00: Cooperative building practices by WikiHouse & the pros and cons of various kinds of insulation, including Hempcrete.

68:00 – 69:00: I mention a project by KUNSTrePUBLIK which was part of their intervention Skulpturenpark Berlin_Zentrum. The project I mentioned was Single Room Hotel by Etienne Boulanger.

69:00 – 70:00: And then I mentioned the Center for Art & Urbanistic’s current project Hacking Urban Furniture, for which I wrote this article about the normative effect of advertising and street furniture in public space.

70:00 – 72:00: More talk about modularization and flexible floor plans through the combination of modules to accommodate changing households sizes and needs. I also raised the idea of functional mix through modularization – can we use the same “boxes” to add rooms and functionality to out living space and to work in? Can we combine these to create flexible, needs-based communities? I talk about the negotiations which come about when people use space together. Which leads me to…

72:00 – 73:45: …urban commons! For those of you interested in learning more about our Kickstarter, watch this part of the video and then follow this link to support us:

73:45 – 75:45: I was so excited that the discussion went in this direction: tiny houses + commons! It shows!

75:45 – 80:30: Talk of commoning and negotiation of rules also brought us to discuss introversion & extroversion in urban life and architecture, and how spatial choices by architects can offer opportunities for retreat and quiet or communication and exchange.

80:30 – 81:30: Returning to my talk, I talk about how living in a tiny house can be a sign of distinction. The book I mentioned above about the aspirational class and Pierre Bourdieu’s book “Distinction” are great background reading here.

Between 81:30 and 82:40, I talk about the importance of diversity in housing markets and the loss of affordable housing as a fundamental loss of diversity in the Berlin housing market. This is the article that I’m talking about: The role of diverse real estate markets in diverse cities

82:40 – 88:00: Scaling up, land policy, urban commons and housing cooperatives. What is Dunbar’s number and why is it important for commoning (84:00 – 86:00)? Is land ownership a necessary part of homeownership? What about governing land as a commons? And what about cooperatives of tiny dwellings on community land trusts? My answer: let’s do it!

88:00 – 91:15: Leo raises the point that placing tiny houses on publicly-owned land is not sustainable and presents his concept of migratory neighborhoods.

91:15 – 93:15: I brought up the fact that generational questions also play a role in taste and that Millennials are also somehow reacting to the material wealth accumulation of the 80s and 90s.

93:15 – 99:30: The final question was about mobility and how Leo and other tiny house residents perceived feelings of home. He presented his upcoming tour with his house through Europe. We discussed the spatial flexibility of a mobile, fully-contained space and how this is also reminiscent of medieval living forms (shop in front, shopkeeper’s apartment in back).

Finally, I plugged the Urban Commons Cookbook Kickstarter one last time and we wrapped it up for the night!

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