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Let’s Get Small — How Tiny Houses Can Help Pittsburgh’s Affordable Housing Stock

Some laneway houses recently constructed in Vancouver, BC Photo from via Smallworks

Some laneway houses recently constructed in Vancouver, BC
Photo from via Smallworks

Pittsburgh does not have a housing issue, at least not one on the same level as San Francisco, New York City, or Seattle. The average home price is Pittsburgh is $148,000, as opposed to San Francisco ($1.1M!!), New York ($599,000), or Seattle ($500,000). The housing stock in Pittsburgh is plentiful and in relatively good condition. Sure, there’s some fixer-uppers and the homes are largely older than the housing stock in the West or South, but it’s pretty good overall.

Things are so dire in Vancouver, British Columbia, that the city is now embracing small houses known as “laneway houses” in alleyways. This article from Citiscope shows how the city is using these houses, with total square footages of less than 1,000, to address the rental market issue where rents are routinely averaging greater than $2000/month. By putting in these small homes as postage stamps on existing properties, the supply will increase and the demand costs should drop. The city does have some concerns about overcrowding of streets with too much traffic, but they are working to mitigate that.

These tiny homes are true starter homes. Although their costs per square foot are usually double or triple the cost for a normal home, the sheer upfront costs are much less. A home for $40,000 to $60,000 (and brand new) is much more appealing to someone rather than paying $80,000 for a home that needs a lot of work or soon will need a lot of work. If Pittsburgh were to embrace the tiny house movement as part of its urban redevelopment strategy, a block of a neighborhood that is laying fallow could be densely redeveloped in a quad home style manner with tiny houses instead. Each block could have its own built-in green space between the new, tiny homes.

Even if a person was not able to purchase the home, the rent on a $40,000 home would be quite affordable no matter your economic level. If properly subsidized, a grouping of tiny homes could be a good way for Pittsburgh to address the issue of getting the homeless into their own homes as a first step. With a roof over their head, they could properly re-focus themselves on job skills building and training. These homes would need to be near proper public transportation and health services in order to properly serve the recently-homeless.

The homes are spartan in nature, but have all the amenities that a person starting out may need. The kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom are not fancy, but they are functional. Add-ons and upgrades help give each home some charm and character.

Although shows like Tiny House Nation on fyi Network show a series of young dreamers or odd hippies espousing the tiny home lifestyle, the tiny home movement could help solve some housing issues in our region for the affordable housing and market-rate housing market.

Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.