Tiny houses still look like dream homes, though they’re still hard to use in Sacramento
When Trish McCrea gazes at her dream home, she sees a future with limitless possibilities.
Never mind the fact that it is less than 320 square feet.
Her tiny home, painted a shade of blue that mirrors the sky, will fit perfectly on her son’s property in Amador County. It’s there she plans to provide care for her mother, who recently suffered from a stroke.
She sees other benefits from the investment as well: a refreshing, minimalist lifestyle, staying mobile and flexible. She can envision settling on the coast some day.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“I just want to simplify my life,” McCrea said. Plus, she added triumphantly, “I don’t have a mortgage payment.”
For the past month, however, her tiny home has remained parked in her son’s driveway.
McCrea said she is “dying to get in there.” So, what’s the hold up?
Tiny homes on wheels are overwhelmingly considered temporary residences, similar to an RV, in many communities, including Sacramento. People can’t just set them up on their private property, move in and call it good.
As a result, tiny home enthusiasts have had to get creative. In McCrea’s case, she hopes to be approved for a hardship permit, which would allow her to live in her tiny home while she cares for her mother.
McCrea isn’t an anomaly. There is substantial public interest in going tiny, or at least downsizing significantly, for various reasons, whether it be a minimalist lifestyle, affordability, sustainability or proximity to loved ones.
According to a National Association of Home Builders poll, more than half of Americans — 53 percent — would consider living in a home that’s less than 600 square feet. That number is even higher for millenials, at 63 percent. To put that in perspective, the average new single-family home is more than 2,500 square feet, according to the association.
This interest in smaller living certainly corroborates what Steve Davis experienced. He launched his East Sacramento based business, Sierra Tiny Houses, three years ago. Now he is building tiny homes for people across the state, as well as locals like McCrea.
The No. 1 draw for his clients, Davis said, is the price: “People are looking for affordable housing.”
Tiny homes generally range from about 100 to 400 square feet and can run anywhere from less than $10,000 to more than $100,000, with prices for permits, materials, labor, insulation, electricity and plumbing varying.
It’s still a far cry from the median Sacramento County home value of more than $350,000, according to national real estate consultancy CoreLogic.
So if the price is the hook, what can derail a deal? The most frequent question Davis gets is, “Where can I put one?”
“A lot of people sort of act defeated before they come to see our homes, just because they’ve read articles or done research online,” he said. “I just want people to know that right now, our clients are finding creative ways and places to put their homes, usually with family members.”
While there’s nothing specifically tiny-home related in the works for Sacramento, government officials know smaller homes —whether it’s in the form of tiny homes or secondary dwelling units (i.e., backyard cottage “granny units” or renovated garages) — can play an important role in addressing the statewide housing crisis.
Fresno was one of the first communities to create zoning for tiny homes that considered them legal, permanent secondary dwelling units, back in 2016. Just a few months ago, in November, San Luis Obispo followed suit.
Whether Sacramento can allow “RV-type homes” in the same fashion is on the table, according to Bruce Monighan, urban design manager for city of Sacramento. Currently, tiny homes have to be situated in an RV park that is at least 5 acres.
Even placing a tiny home on a foundation on private property with the intent to permanent connect to utilities poses issues, Monighan said, because local jurisdictions have to make sure the homes are professionally built and inspected and follow city regulations. The city has to have a way to make sure the structures are safe for permanent living, he added.
“I think you should be able to bring in a tiny home on wheels that has a DMV license on it and place it on your site and be able to use it. I don’t see the value in not allowing those,” Monighan said. “We just want to make sure that, as we allow these to happen, the ability to use them doesn’t get abused.”
Davis is encouraged by the momentum shown in cities like Fresno and San Luis Obispo. “I really do believe that within the next two years it’ll be an entirely different landscape” for tiny home living, he said.
As for McCrea, she can already picture her dog, Riley, scampering across a protected “dog-walk,” a bridge from her lofted bedroom to a living room space that rests above her kitchen, which is complete with plenty of cupboard space, a big farm-style sink and a bar with seating for two.
McCrea cut her living space in half when she decided to buy a tiny home. She went from an approximately 700-square-foot, $200,000 home to her approximately $75,000, 310-square-foot space.
This is all new to her, but it’s exciting.
“I’d love to see more people live this way,” McCrea said. “I’ve had a lot of people admire the fact I have a tiny home. But getting the [cities and] counties to legalize all this, that’s the hard part.”