Conference paper

Tiny houses: a radical new solution for addressing urban housing affordability, or a just another niche market?

Housing Housing prices Urban planning Cities and towns Affordable housing Australia
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The emergent tiny house movement originated in the USA in the late 1990s; driven by housing affordability issues and sustainability goals. Tiny houses are generally very small (under 40m2), often mobile, and more affordable than conventional houses. The tiny house movement is most active in those OECD countries with the most unaffordable housing markets, and somewhat perversely, with the largest houses. These countries include the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This paper reports the results of a pilot study that investigated the tiny house movement in Australia, and its potential to address some housing affordability issues. The method included a questionnaire and a series of semi structured interviews with Australian tiny house enthusiasts. A wide range of actors were interested in building tiny houses, although few had actually done so. The primary reasons given for wanting to build a tiny house were economic freedom and environmental sustainability. On the other hand, respondents reported a number of barriers, including the price of land, complex and rigid local government planning schemes and the inability to source finance. Although tiny houses mostly appealed to younger singles and couples and retirees, these demographics are also vulnerable to housing affordability issues. If planning policy allowed more flexible housing choice, such as tiny houses, granny flats and the like, within urban areas, this could address some intractable urban issues, such as sprawl, housing affordability, and energy and water efficiency.

The papers presented at the 2015 State of Australian Cities National Conference (SOAC 7) were organised into seven broad themes but all shared, to varying degrees, a common focus on the ways in which high quality academic research can be used in the development and implementation of policy. The relationship between empirical evidence and theoretical developments that are presented as part of our scholarly endeavours and policy processes is rarely clear and straightforward. Sometimes, perhaps because of the fortuitous alignment of various factors, our research has a direct and positive impact on policy. Sometimes it takes longer to be noticed and have influence and, sometimes, there is no little or no evidence of impact beyond or even with the academy. And while there are things we can do to promote the existence of our work and to present it in more accessible formats to people we believe to be influential, ultimately the appreciation and application of our work lies in the hands of others.

This paper is one of 164 papers that have each been reviewed and refereed by our peers and revised accordingly. While they each will have been presented briefly at the SOAC conference, they can now be read or re-read at your leisure. We hope they will stimulate further debate and discussion and form a platform for further research.

Adapted from the SOAC 7 conference proceedings introduction by Paul Burton and Heather Shearer

The State of Australian Cities (SOAC) national conferences have been held biennially since 2003 to support interdisciplinary policy-related urban research.

SOAC 7 was held in the City of Gold Coast from 9-11 December 2015. The conference featured leading national and local politicians and policy makers who shared their views on some of the current challenges facing cities and how these might be overcome in the future.

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