Over the past few decades, as the economy constricted, college loan debt expanded, and owning a home began to seem increasingly out of reach, some resourceful souls said, “Hey. Houses don’t need four-figure square footage for us to call them home — let’s see what we can do with 200 square feet.” Turns out, we can do amazing things, including itty-bitty cabins, nomadic wagons, DIY house trailers, and retrofitted buses and shipping-container homes. Clever solutions to living smaller and better abound, and now the Simply Home Community, a new cohousing village in Portland, Oregon, has joined the mix. (Check it out at This Is the Little Life.)
In 2012, Lina Menard, Ben Campbell and Karin Parramore met in tiny house workshops Menard coordinated. All had been rethinking the home ownership paradigm — the expense, use of resources, isolation — and by the summer of 2013, all were either building or living in tiny houses. Along with a couple of other small-home aficionados, they began to discuss living collaboratively, and settled on a cohousing model in which residents maintain individual homes but share such resources as open space, a garden and a common house.
They formed a working group to find a suitable piece of property and drafted a set of Community Living Agreements. They soon found a single-family house around which they could circle their tiny homes — none of them with an internal measurement of more than 150 square feet — on a large backyard lot. Although “bedroom community” usually implies a commuter suburb, in this case, it’s actually a community of bedrooms. The tiny houses are viewed as detached bedrooms, not separate homes.
The “Big House,” which at 1,450 square feet really isn’t so big, houses three people and provides a communal kitchen, bathroom, and living, dining, laundry and guest rooms — a setup that mitigates some of the space limitations of a tiny home. Each tiny home is owned by those who dwell in it, and though two community members own the “hub” home now, plans include changing ownership to a multimember LLC (limited liability company). The four little owner-built houses are highly customized, each with a galley kitchen, bed, and space to study, eat, work and think, and each takes on the personality of its owner — no cookie-cutter homes here.
These denizens of the little life have built a garden shed and a bicycle shelter together, and have tackled several home improvement projects and started a community garden.
“Tiny home living is absolutely easier and much more fun in a group,” Menard says. The challenges are the same as those that characterize any human community, but the upsides have far outweighed the drawbacks for this group, whose members range in age from 28 to 50. “We’ve enjoyed sharing resources, as well as the highs and lows of everyday life. We don’t always socialize together, but hanging out happens because we’re all here, so there are ready-made connections. We’ve gotten to know each other’s friends, and have devoted some time to just getting to know each other better.”
Menard believes the tiny home cohousing idea is going to continue to expand because it’s such a good option for compact development in low-density neighborhoods. (For books about tiny homes, check out these titles by Lloyd Kahn.) “Living little” can provide affordable housing for students or retirees. Families could use tiny homes as additions for older family members or teens, who could eventually roll off to college or their first jobs pulling the little homes they’ve built themselves.
Want to learn more about our 2015 Homestead Hamlets? Read Joining Forces for More Sustainable Communities to learn more.
K.C. Compton is senior editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, and formerly was Editor in Chief of our sister publications, The Herb Companion and GRIT. A huge fan of the food chain, from molecules to meals on the table, K.C. is passionate about the idea that most of what we need to be healthy can be found in the garden.