Tiny Homes, Big Ideas

Tiny Homes, Big Ideas

In an increasingly unaffordable housing market, more North Texans are going small.

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In an increasingly unaffordable housing market, more North Texans are going small. Photo by Edward Brown.

Only several months into the tiny homes business, local carpenter and construction contractor James Zametz is looking for a larger site to build his pet projects. Last summer, he announced on social media that his business, Elemental Renovations, would begin constructing small homes, which average around 300 square feet and range in price from $30,000 to $90,000. There are several reasons interest in tiny homes has grown, Zametz told me as we toured one of his recently constructed mini abodes. 

Many tiny homes are built on trailers with wheels, allowing them to be moved in the event of an emergency. Zametz said he has received several construction inquiries from disaster-prone areas like California and Florida. Money is another motivator. One Fort Worth family hired Zametz to build a tiny home for them to live in while renting their large home. “Renting out their house is going to cover both their mortgage and the cost of the tiny home,” he said.

The design for the 275-square-foot home that Zametz recently completed is straightforward. The rectangular structure has a living area near the front door followed by a kitchen area and a partitioned restroom near the back. A narrow staircase leads to a loft, which is considered the main bedroom. Storage space is carefully built into the walls without intruding into the living spaces. All of the furnishings and fixtures match what would be found in a traditional home, just on a smaller scale. “Recreational vehicles are built light and cheap,” he said. “They’re meant for vacationing. When you think of a mobile home, you think of a cheap house that may be temporary. [Tiny homes] are more like actual houses.”

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Interest in tiny homes grows daily, partly due to the HGTV shows Tiny House Hunters and Tiny House, Big Living. Last fall, Lake Dallas City Council voted to approve construction of 13 tiny homes on a one-acre plot of land. The privately owned development will contain residences ranging from $40,000 to $100,000. Fort Worth has yet to see a tiny home development, but commercial real estate agent Ryan Johnson aims to change that. He’s interested in addressing lingering affordable housing issues. Tiny homes, with their low price points, could play a crucial role in allowing low- and moderate-income individuals to live near the city’s urban core, he said.

City zoning laws present a barrier, however. Many tiny home owners opt not to permanently bind their residence to a concrete foundation, meaning that as far as the city of Fort Worth is concerned, tiny homes are classified as recreational vehicles and restricted to areas zoned for trailer parks. Fort Worth city planner Jocelyn Murphy confirmed that unless tiny homes are built to residential code with utility connections, they are considered recreational vehicles.

Johnson said that Fort Worth should adopt a specific classification for tiny homes. “Trailer parks are generally seen as degrading to the surrounding areas,” he said. “They are often not well-kept and tend to bring [surrounding] property values down.”

Finding a safe location near downtown that meets zoning for recreational vehicles has proven difficult, he added. 

Zametz said he has three tiny home projects currently in the works. He sees the younger generation of Americans as being more open to the concept of downsizing. “Having a huge house traditionally showed that we reached a certain social status,” he said. “For 50 years, the American dream has entailed a consumer mentality. I think that’s reversing now. The biggest hurdle we’re seeing is the ability of [Fort Worth] city officials to see the future. I love Fort Worth, but it seems like Fort Worth doesn’t want anything to happen unless they’ve seen it in another city.”

Johnson sees things from a broader economic point of view. Affordability is a key component of how quality of life is measured, he said. “We’re at 25 to 30 percent of” our income going toward housing in North Texas, he said. “DFW used to attract businesses because it was considered affordable to live in. Over the past few years, housing isn’t considered a bargain anymore.”

2 COMMENTS

  1. If people didn’t have to spend 50% of their pay on JUST a home, then maybe they would have more money to actually invest in the economy. I am so sick of trying to find decent housing that will not bankrupt me. Apartments are either ritzy with so many amenities that I don’t give a rip about or they are run down drug dens. Why can’t there just be a place for decent, well built, affordable homes that are just that -homes. I don’t need a daycare, dog park, fitness center, jungle gym, business center, bowling alley and pool with spa. I just want a good roof over my head where I can sleep, eat and clean up without worrying if I am going to be robbed, raped or infested with vermin. I want to own it, not rent – i.e. line someone else’s pockets when I could be investing in my OWN future. Can I get an amen and a hallelujah? Tiny homes are a great option for people who want to customize yet live small and support local with flexibility. It is so very sad to me that DFW hasn’t done a better job with public transit and other features that would help people save money and get out of debt while also pursuing careers, family and enjoying the fun parts of this metroplex. I spend more money on gas and insurance just so I can live with low rent/utilities. I shouldn’t have to choose that with all the resources here. Why can’t I live near my workplace, utilize good transit and access other businesses where I could spend money if I wasn’t throwing it away at a vehicle and bills? If DFW provided tiny house communities, better public transit and encouraged business to “build in” instead of splaying out away from city centers, more people would be involved in their community and able to spend more financially. It just seems like common sense to me but politics keeps sabotaging us all. Does anyone else feel that way or is it just me…

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