Should “Tiny Homes” Be Allowed In Auburn Hills?

Posted by – Steve Cohen, Director of Community Development

I was mesmerized.  I could not stop watching.

My wife had turned on the HGTV Show Tiny House Hunters and we proceeded to observe a couple inspect three potential new homes for their young family of four.  These homes were very, very small – generally under 600 sq. ft. in size.  Which home would they pick?  The travel trailer, the cute shed on wheels, or the converted shipping container?  We were both shocked when they picked the converted shipping container.  The shed on wheels fit our preferences.

When the episode was over, I promptly asked my wife, “Would you want to live in such a small home?”  She said, “No way, but I can see the appeal.”  

Studies show that there is a segment of the American population (e.g., single parents, empty nesters, college students, and young professionals) that desire to live in a really small home, but do not wish to live in a traditional mobile home or apartment unit.  This market segment is called the Tiny House Movement.   An increasing number of people wish to have less money tied into their living space in order to obtain financial freedom.  For many, the scars of the Great Recession have motivated them to want less “stuff” to weigh them down.

Example of a tiny house on wheels

Example of a tiny house on wheels

There are lots of questions that come out of the Tiny House Movement:

  • Is this a fad?  Are these just high-end mobile homes or travel trailers?
  • Is there a demand for this type of housing in Auburn Hills?  If so, where should they be allowed? 
  • Should Auburn Hills permit tiny homes, often called Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), to be placed on lots with existing single-family homes?  If so, how will that function and aesthetically fit into neighborhoods? 
  • Should Auburn Hills amend its Zoning Ordinance to allow smaller homes on single-family zoned property?  The smallest home size allowed without a basement is 950 sq. ft.  Although, throughout most of our community, zoning requires homes to be 1,200 sq. ft. or larger.
  • Would tiny homes lower the property values of neighboring lots that have larger homes?  It may.
  • Should Auburn Hills allow rental RV parks, cottage communities, or co-ops so that people can temporarily move their tiny homes into the community?  It appears that many of the tiny homes being sold are on wheels and mobility is a motivating factor for buyers. 
  • Should Auburn Hills only permit tiny homes as permanent structures tied to foundations in planned developments?  This concept would allow for affordable “village style” housing for both young professionals and seniors that may prefer a more compact walkable neighborhood with less housing space and property to maintain.

    A community of tiny houses is being proposed in Sonoma County, California. It is designed for one-or two-person households and would function as a village co-op. (Richard Sheppard sketch)

    A community of tiny houses is being proposed in Sonoma County, California. It is designed for one-or two-person households and would function as a village co-op. (Richard Sheppard sketch)

Perhaps now is a good time to start thinking about this issue.  It will be interesting to see if the real estate market demands this type of housing in the future.