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Tiny Homes Research

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Posted by on Wed, 11/09/2016 - 2:34pm

Maria Saxton is a doctoral student in Environmental Design and Planning with a passion for affordable housing.  Having witnessed first-hand the regional housing shortage through her experiences with the VT Appalachian Service Project, she regards affordable, quality housing as a fundamental human right.   She has dedicated her doctoral studies to finding possible solutions to the crisis and most notably in what possibilities the micro homes movement could offer.  Tiny house living is a movement in which people choose to downsize their living space because of environmental, financial or other personal concerns.  When she learned that micro homes were being used in urban areas to house homeless populations, she felt the pull to get involved.  With the help of Dr. Annie Pearce, she designed a study to observe this alternative affordable housing approach. Her experiences meeting the residents of these communities and hearing their stories further ignited her passion for these issues. 

Maria used a case study approach to develop profiles of existing micro home communities across the United States. The majority of her fieldwork was conducted in established communities in the Pacific Northwest and it included both buildings developed by micro home enthusiasts and communities more focused on the target low-income/homeless demographic.  On-site interviews, photographic documentation, and document reviews were used to characterize the physical infrastructure in each community.  Maria held interviews with residents, community managers, public officials, affordable housing advocates, and builders of micro homes.  Discussions focused on the incidence of crime, building characteristics, and perceptions of desirability.  Characteristics of these communities were used to analyze their effects on residents and assess the value of micro homes as a housing model.


Her exploratory field studies suggest that micro home communities have been successful in providing healthy, stable support systems for various populations: at-risk populations, the elderly, victims of natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina.  Many communities offer additional resources such as professional training, resume building, counseling, and healthcare services.  By sharing facilities and responsibilities, occupants naturally socialize with other residents and create an organic community.  This, in turn, may lower crime rates in areas where crime might otherwise be an issue. Micro houses appear to be an attractive solution to the housing crisis because of their relatively low cost and especially because they imbue their residents with a sense of security, ownership, and empowerment.