Tiny House Community: An Interview With Elaine Walker

Tiny House Community: An Interview With Elaine Walker

We are pleased to share with you our recent interview with the founder of TinyHouseCommunity.com, Elaine Walker. If you haven’t been over to her site yet, we highly recommend that you do. The site is very well organized and offers a wealth of resources for any tiny houser: whether you are a beginner or expert in tiny living. Elaine is also the organizer of the Tiny House Fair happening October 10-12 in Texas which has quite a line up of presenters: Jay Shafer, Deek Diedricksen, Dan Louche, Lloyd Kahn, Brad “Darby” Kittel, and many more. Elaine also runs a page dedicated to connecting tiny housers looking for a place to park their home with those that have a space to rent. We hope you’ll hop over to Tiny House Community and take advantage of all the site has to offer.

 

tiny house community

Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Would you introduce yourself to our readers? 

My name is Elaine Walker. I fell in love with tiny houses in 2008, as I considered how my life would change when my children left for college. In a four bedroom house on two acres, I knew I would soon no longer need all that space.

tiny house communityHow did you personally come across tiny house living? What is it about it that drew you in to start with?

I read an article on Jay Shafer and was drawn to the beauty and creativity of his designs. I attended a workshop of his in New York City (in 2008, that workshop was the closest one to my home in New Hampshire) and was hooked.

What is “Tiny House Community”? How did the idea evolve? What is the intention of the community?

Originally, I started “Tiny House Community” as a way of connecting with others who wanted to live in intentional communities of tiny homes. It’s since evolved into an information resource for the greater community of tiny house enthusiasts.

What is your role with the Community? Did you start the website? Do you run the whole thing? 

I’m the sole owner/operator of Tiny House Community. Yes, I started the web site and run the whole thing, which is probably apparent, since it’s a bit homely and slow compared to other web sites. I’ve thought about hiring a professional web design team, but for now, I’d rather save the money so that I can continue to offer information without accepting ads.

As for what keeps me going day-to-day, there are still lots of people seeking information about tiny houses and I enjoy being of service. I’m not able to solve the truly important issues, like how to end conflicts in the middle east or turn the corner on global warming or prevent starvation in Africa, but I can offer info that helps people make the change to tiny living, reduce their expenses, and spend time in ways they find most fulfilling.

tiny house community

Group Photo from Last Year’s Tiny House Fair

The Fair sounds amazing and you have lined up a power house of presenters. How would you describe the Fair? What can people expect to get out of it? 

The 2014 Tiny House Fair will be held in Texas and is an opportunity to learn about tiny houses and speak with many tiny house experts. The emphasis this year will be building with salvage, sustainability, and community. In addition, we have a legal expert to address zoning regulations and a realtor to address land purchase topics (fair schedule – http://tinyhousecommunity.com/fair-schedule.htm). Come to meet other tiny house enthusiasts, talk tiny all weekend, sing along to the Tiny House Song, and come closer to realizing your tiny house dreams!

Do you yourself live in a tiny house? 

I lived in my tiny house in California, but in 2012, my folks needed a hand, so I moved to Florida to be with them, and I’m not able to live in it now. I had heard of a new tiny house community on the East coast, so I contacted the folks at Boneyard Studios to see if my house could join them. They agreed, and my tiny house travelled to Washington, DC, to become part of the tiny house showcase. The Boneyard folks were still in the process of building their homes, and my house was used by workers and guests. I’d believed it would be a permanent part of that community, and I had hoped to retire there someday, but after a year, they asked me to move my house so that they could use the space for something else. I considered having my tiny house join SoFair Farms in Iowa, to become part of their eco-village, but complications with transportation and registration motivated me to bring the house to Florida, where it’s forming a new tiny house community section within the College Park Village RV Park in Orlando. Emily Lindahl, host of the Florida Tiny House Enthusiasts Facebook page, is living in my house while she makes plans to build her own. A second tiny house has joined and a third is expected in a few months.  I still plan on moving back into my tiny house when I retire.

The tiny house landscape is changing dramatically and getting a ton of press. Do you think the interest will still be there once the media loses its interest? Are tiny houses a fad or the wave of the future?

Tiny houses are something in between a fad and the wave of the future. I believe they will continue to gain in popularity for the next few years, and will gain widespread acceptance as alternative housing. I hope that tiny houses maintain a focus on issues that go beyond their size. The value in tiny living is that it encourages one to consider one’s way of life and place priority on quality of life over wealth and accumulation of possessions. Tiny houses have been described disparagingly as trailers for hipsters, but there is truth in that. Tiny houses are not just cheap, small, transportable dwellings. To me, tiny houses are about making conscious choices to live in harmony with others and the environment, to live sustainably, to nurture relationships, and to not get caught up in a rat race that leads to an unfulfilling life.

tiny house communitySome people predict that the future of tiny houses rests in pre-assembled options and more automation. Others feel that the heartbeat of the tiny house movement is the do it yourselfer and that they are here to stay. What are your thoughts on the topic?

There’s room for both. We are already seeing more pre-assembled tiny houses and I expect that as the market grows, more RV and mobile home manufacturers will offer what they call tiny houses. Existing “park models” and log cabin kits are very much like tiny houses.

I believe that DIYers will remain a strong force in the tiny house movement. There is a wonderful sense of empowerment that comes from building one’s own home. However, for the DIY movement to grow significantly, we need legal recognition of tiny houses as unique structures (whether on wheels or a foundation) with specific rights. We need to develop our own building standards to ensure safety. This will clear the way for bank loans and insurance and acceptance in RV parks (many of whom currently only accept tiny houses with an RVIA sticker, meaning they were built by a company that is part of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association).

What can we do as a collective (whether we just tiny house fans or full time activists) to help propel tiny houses to the next level? How can people be of service to the “cause” so to speak?

Great question! Here’s how:

  • Share your knowledge and learn from others. Join a local meet-up group (http://tinyhousecommunity.com/forums.htm) or start your own if none is close, and connect with other tiny housers. Also participate in forum and Facebook discussions.
  • Talk with local zoning officials and work to change regulations. Within suburbs, work toward creating an “overlay district”, a region where tiny homes or ADUs are permitted without each individual having to request an exemption from existing zoning regulations (example attached).
  • Contact local RV parks. Talk with the owners about tiny houses. It’s best to email pictures and descriptions, then follow up with an in-person visit. Request that they accept tiny houses. If they agree, email me ( elaine@tinyhousecommunity.com ) so I can add them to our maps.
  • Contribute to defining building standards for DIYers on the tiny house wiki (http://tinyhousewiki.com). The Tiny House Alliance began this, but we need more input. With clear standards that address ascetics and safety, we will have a much easier time gaining widespread acceptance.

 

9 Responses to Tiny House Community: An Interview With Elaine Walker

  1. Mark Wark July 29, 2014 at 8:19 am #

    It is wonderful to see Tiny House movement organizers like Elaine Walker address struggles on alternative housing issues. We do need more legal recognition for tiny house industry with specific rights. The tiny house movement can’t stand alone to address these issues like codes, zoning and building standards. I’ve written as much in posts on our own FB (DownSized) seeking a collaborative effort. Its time the movement becomes an organization. At present the group seems more enamored with the idea, even enthusiastically adopting specific nature of the behavior associated with a fad. Cute tiny house photos go viral inside and out of the community. Apart from general novelty outside the community, the fad is driven by mass media, whereas a trend is considered to be a behavior that evolves into a relatively permanent change. The specific nature of the behavior associated with a housing trend, for example, can be for a variety of reasons beyond just lifestyle; including economic, security, financial, preparation and even food. Although fads are short-lived, many are credited with giving birth to movements that over the past decade have inspired other social trends. “In economics, the term is used in a similar way. Fads are mean-reverting deviations from intrinsic value caused by social or psychological forces like those that cause fashions in political beliefs or consumption goods.” The word ‘Tiny” is irrelevant to the downsizing, and like popular language may fade or remain but the underlying attitudes (the intrinsic value caused by social trend) that go along with their housing lifestyle remain a growing segment. Few seem willing to tackle the work ahead, afraid to discuss the darker side of the movement, the fact it remains illegal to build or reside in a small affordable space in many parts of America. The economic and political aspect of alternative housing can not be overlooked if the movement wants recognition. Founder and organizers do speak out on occasion but it has not become a regular part of the ‘trend’. In fact, far more promote the behavior coolhunting the bandwagon effect. It’s not to say that the social and cultural phenomena specific to the Internet does not help, such as popular DIY’s, How To’s, Images, Catchphrases, Jokes, and viral Videos do help to expand it. More heavy lifting is required of our founders and organizers if we expect to tackle the tuff issues related like regulation. We won’t get the recognition if we don’t organize together for a common cause. We can’t afford to alienate other groups we have in common. Our strength is – as is many movements – in numbers. Organized into a uniformed cohesive group we become an association. The relationships provide a foundation for lobbying efforts and a common agenda. It’s how we get acceptance, loans, insurance, and communities. I’d start with our own perception – less talk about cute fad and more about underlying issues – housing rights. Call it tiny, or small, or downsizing, or call it anything we want, but call it out as wrong IF outdated regulations interfere with innovative, affordable and sustainable housing. We can not afford to overlook the larger obvious connection to the social and economic value. Tiny House Alliance is a good start, but we have more to do beyond guiding principles to conduct businesses ethically & responsibly.

    • Sandi July 29, 2014 at 9:55 pm #

      All has been very well presented and stated. I agree there is a disconnect among “Tiny
      House” people and organizations and there should be a strong effort to bring them all together. I also think that there can not be exclusivity in doing so. There are many types of “small” houses, be they actual stick built houses on foundations or on trailers, prebuilt Park Models, full time RV’rs, people who choose Yurts etc. I understand peoples hesitation, such as Trisha whose comment follows the above, however I believe there are ways to start addressing the legal issues of building codes and zoning without necessarily “outing” yourself. You can talk to government officials, go to city meetings etc. and not disclose that you currently live in someone’s back yard or whatever.

      I was impressed with the previous article on this site about Spur, Texas. For those wanting to gain the same rights, if you will, I would talk with the folks there and get a copy of their building codes and zoning ordinances etc. and use those as a speaking point to talk to those in charge in cities/towns where you would like to live or have a small house community. I know Jay Shaffer is starting one in Northern California and am sure he has good information etc., knows some of the pitfalls and how to avoid them in the future. Small houses are not a new fad as Sears and Roebuck use to sell house kits and those houses were 400 to 500 square feet, many of the houses you see from that era, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s are actually built from those kits. I also know that in Washington State there are Park Model communities and many small towns where there is an abundance of small houses. I am not talking about mobile home parks. I have to say that my current situation, and after reading the article on Spur, Texas I am motivated to put together a presentation package to present to my local “Town Hall”. I have no intention of telling them I am living “quasi” illegally on the back 40 of someone’s acreage — I say quasi as the property is “grandfathered” in from being county to city and the owner of said property is the original owner — however the city at the moment does not fully see the value of allowing “small/tiny” houses on a foundation or otherwise.

      I am currently in an RV (read travel trailer) however I am tearing it down and utilizing the actual trailer underneath to build my own tiny home. I am currently starting to get ready to begin, moving out my possessions and tearing the trailer apart. It should be a great learning experience and I am anxious to see how they actually incorporated the slide and fastened the unit to the trailer so that it would not come off towing it down the road. I am playing with plans and layouts and will be purchasing plans soon.
      I need closet space and a decent sized kitchen — do not care quite so much about the living room. Am thinking about doing a blog as I go through the process. I am a 68 year young woman and want to show that if I can do it, anyone can do it. LOL. Anyway, these were great articles and I very much enjoy this sight and will be utilizing your plans with minor modifications. I may have an RV company frame my tiny home just to be able to have a legal RV certification Am checking into that now. Happy trails everyone.

      • Gabriella July 30, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

        Thanks so much for writing in Sandi! I hope that you will document your process and journey. I know a lot of people would be very interested in seeing the process of converting an RV into a tiny house by using the trailer. I want to let you know that there is quite a large collaborative group of tiny house professionals in active conversation about how to work together to create legal recognition of tiny houses. It’s a process and we are putting our heads together, meeting and staying in communication. One place that you mention that I think could really make a huge difference, is for people to take a presentation to their city officials. This is something that perhaps could even be standardized in the sense that people could have a presentation that is already created and to share it with officials around them. That way if someone doesn’t have the time or ability to create a presentation, that doesn’t need to be a reason to not do it. Thank you for your enthusiasm about tiny house living and getting them legalized. The more of us that band together, the better off our chances of real changes being made. Keep in touch!

        • Mark Wark July 31, 2014 at 8:29 am #

          “It’s a process and we are putting our heads together, meeting and staying in communication”

          Could you give us some insight into finding out more about the process, communications and meetings for those of us who wish to get involved and help. Thank you.

  2. trisha July 29, 2014 at 1:24 pm #

    This is so true and so well put…however…the reason it doesn’t come together is that it is all ill legal to one degree or another. So, folks like me who would be totally willing to put time and effort into making the needed changes, don’t dare as we cannot afford to lose our tiny houses. When someone comes up with a solution to this threat I will be the first one to hop on the band wagon!

    • Gabriella July 30, 2014 at 2:48 pm #

      TOTALLY hear you Trisha! We are doing what we can to get them legalized. It will be a happy day indeed when tiny houses are recognized as legal dwellings!! 🙂

  3. Mark Wark July 31, 2014 at 8:20 am #

    Wonderful suggestions and dialog on the issues related to trending housing concerns. We do have several fine examples leading the way to address some of the concerns. I wish we could do more and point to outlying movements who share common lifestyle choices and strengths. We see them not just in housing trends but in homesteading, prepping, and organic farming communities. Sustainable or off-grid housing is one of the fastest growing segments of the housing market. Jay Shafer and company are to be congratulated and held up as an example toward improvements, but the tiny house movement is but a small fragment of larger group focused on similar lifestyle choices. We need to advance beyond how to deal with these choices today, and consider how we are going to deal with them tomorrow. It seems a timely idea to fundamentally challenge the way we view our future, and place priority on advocacy to address common goals and solutions. Critical leaders should come together to support one another and develop credible collaborative willing to address these common goals without ‘outing’ or fear of reprisals. Just as I wrote in ‘Conflict of Code: What we do about the Elelephant in the Room’, one tiny house dweller said, “It’s the elephant in the tiny house, we share an unspoken secret about living self sufficiently in small paces. It’s kind of a stigma, really”.

    The mere fact that we have a segment of our community hiding exemplifies the severity of the underlying issues and strengthens the cause for fundamental change. The challenge is to put aside our differences, and come together to effect the change we have in common. The laws, codes and zones are the central issue and these are problems we should deal or they won’t go away anytime soon.

    What remains is the question of how we are going to do it – again I refer you to the excellent recommendations given here in comment by others. I would importance that we be inclusive (as others have suggested in comment) and reach out to other organizations beyond our comfort in a collaborative effort. Look at how other comminutes are succeeding like Andrew Heben’s work with Eugene Oregon’s Opportunity Village or Auburn University School of Architecture, Rural Studio 20K House project. I studied these and many other intentional communities to explore their missions and have collected their guides and recommendations. These successful programs bare evidence of progress into headway through unified activism. Andrew Hebens recent book “Tent City Urbanism’ explores the intersection of the “tiny house movement” and tent cities organized by the homeless to present an accessible and sustainable housing paradigm that can improve laws, codes and zones for everyone.

    These are real issues that we must tackle together; individual communities have fallen short born out of obstacles, fear and tempest. Some communities are more open to suggestions then others and remain committed to the proposition of cooperation over isolation. Clearly the interest is here, and it can take years to effect change. We have been very good at sharing our experiences, each unique story a necessary building block for a success in trend away from traditional housing monopolies that limit our lifestyle choices. A choice not lost to the housing industry and realtors. Like the tent cities Andrew studied we can “exemplify self-management, direct democracy, tolerance, mutual aid, and resourceful strategies for living with less.” We should all support “a vision for how cities can constructively build upon these positive dynamics” rather than fear the policing of outdated regulations that have no basis of popular support. Speak out, you have nothing to fear, a community is behind you.

  4. K Patterson January 1, 2015 at 1:05 pm #

    What would b the cheapest cost one could live in a tiny house at College Grove in Orlando? Could u have a tiny house there year round even though u would only live there partime?

    • Gabriella January 1, 2015 at 5:17 pm #

      Not sure! Check out tinyhousemap.com and see if there is anyone in that area. Local resources are your best. 🙂

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