In 2020, the Tiny-house Movement Went Boom

A Tumbleweed brand Cypress 24 in Boulder, Colo. (Reuters photo: Rick Wilking)
  • In 2020, the tiny-house movement saw an increase in interest and a boom in sales thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Insider spoke to experts about what they think the movement needs to achieve this year for tiny houses to become a legitimate housing option.
  • Zack Giffin, the host of “Tiny House Nation,” said the movement’s main goal in 2021 is to convince more states and municipalities to legalize tiny houses across the country.
  • To do that, experts say, the movement must market itself as a great option for singles and couples with no children, it must rebrand itself as an affordable housing option, and it must distance itself from RVs and camper vans.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

When the coronavirus pandemic swept across the country in 2020, Nick Mosley didn’t know what would happen to his tiny-house construction business.

In March, his business, California Tiny House, was operating out of a 12,000-square-foot warehouse in Fresno, California. Mosley braced for the worst, knowing he wouldn’t be able to market his company at festivals or offer tours for the foreseeable future.

However, rather than see a downturn, Mosley was inundated with emails and phone calls from people inquiring about tiny houses. By December, Mosley had expanded his warehouse to 22,000 square feet and hired four more staff members to meet the demand and to keep his employees safe.

It ended up being a record year for the company, which built 30 tiny houses in 2020 alone. It was a direct impact of the coronavirus, Mosley said, as new groups of people became interested in the growing movement.

“The pandemic created a new need or created a new customer base that may not have been there previously,” he told Insider. “There are a lot of people that need backyard offices so that they can work from home but have separation from their family. There are college students that don’t want to be in dorms because they’re not socially distanced.”

Mosley’s experience reflects how interest in the tiny-house movement reached fever pitch last year. IPX 1031, a financial company, found that 56% of Americans said they would move into a tiny house during the pandemic, and that 86% of first-time buyers would buy a tiny house as their starter home.

Now, as the movement morphs from a growing fad to something bigger, it’s at a critical point. Leaders within the industry told Insider they hope to carry that momentum into 2021 and focus on turning tiny houses into a legitimate form of housing – first by defining who the tiny-house movement is for and then by determining how it will benefit the country.

Experts say the movement’s main goal this year should be to convince more states and municipalities to legalize tiny houses across the country

In the eyes of most local governments in the US, tiny houses are considered illegal. There are no building codes for tiny houses, which means they aren’t being built to a certain safety standard. Plus, tiny houses aren’t mentioned in most local zoning codes, so it’s very difficult to find a place to legally park a tiny house in the US.

The Tiny Home Industry Association (THIA) worked closely with local municipalities to legalize tiny houses throughout 2020. The organization’s main goal is to create a definitive definition for tiny houses so that they can be differentiated from RVs.

In early 2020, THIA and its president, Dan Fitzpatrick, earned a big win when Los Angeles legalized tiny houses as accessory dwelling units, allowing people to park their movable tiny homes on zoned properties. Since Los Angeles is the second-largest city in the country, Zack Giffin, host of “Tiny House Nation” and vice president of THIA, called it “the biggest thing that has ever happened to the tiny house world” on his Instagram. The ordinance helped spark San Jose and San Diego to follow suit.

“As soon as Los Angeles did it, it basically caught fire in other places because all of a sudden they don’t have to go through that arduous process,” Giffin told Insider. “They can simply look at what Los Angeles did and basically borrow language from their policies, introducing it to their own cities.”

Giffin and Fitzpatrick agreed that the No. 1 goal for the movement now is to continue this success and build on this momentum at the local levels. To do so, some changes must be made so that the movement can transition from “infancy to maturity,” Giffin said.

Some leaders in the movement hope to end the narrative that tiny houses are for families

As the host of “Tiny House Nation,” Giffin said his show perpetuated the idea that tiny houses are the perfect option for families.

“We were constantly putting families in tiny homes, essentially, because it creates better drama,” Giffin said. “It creates better television, right? It’s so much more of a challenge when you have a family with five kids trying to move into a tiny home. Naturally, casting and production is going to prioritize working with those types of stories.”

In hindsight, Giffin said this was a mistake because local governments think this movement is for families, but in reality, tiny houses are better suited for singles and couples with no children, and these groups need more housing options.

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SOURCE: Insider, Frank Olito