Tiny but affordable
Tiny houses that sit on wheels may be a solution to creating affordable housing options on Bowen Island and Ruth Harding addressed council on Monday, July 9, to explore the possibility of building a tiny house and a workshop as part of the pilot project. Part of the discussion centred on the topic whether the structures would be regulated by the building code or the motor vehicle licensing act.
“We all know that we have issues with affordable housing,” Harding said. “And tiny houses could be part of a solution.” She explained that larger homes are more costly in terms of building, taxes, heating, maintenance and repair while small homes have other advantages in addition to the economic one – they appeal to people who want to live a less cluttered and less complicated life with a reduced ecological impact. Harding believes that tiny homes could allow people to stay on Bowen in the event that their finances take a turn for the worse.
Harding believes that tiny homes may be suitable for empty nesters, singles, seniors and young adults as well as artists. Harding wants to build a tiny house and a workshop on wheels but she says she doesn’t plan to sell her work out of her workshop but will continue to market it through local galleries and craft fairs.
Harding said, “If the house stays on a trailer and doesn’t go on a cement bed, its height and size are dictated not by the B.C. Building Code but by regulations of the Ministry of Transportation.” She explained that the homes can be built to a maximum of 10 feet width without needing an escort vehicle when they are moved on the road.
“Ideally, the homes should be hooked up to septic systems and connected to water lines but that’s not necessary as they could have holding tanks,” Harding said, adding that most tiny homes have kitchens, bathrooms and electricity; they can also be hooked up to power poles or use solar or battery power.
Harding has a trailer and a significant percentage of the material and supply ready, she also has an offer of a place to build from a local developer. She was asking for council’s approval to proceed with the project.
A briefing report by building inspector Joldine Lee raised a number of concerns and stated that the construction of a house and workshop would be subject to the BC Building Code and would require a permit. The report also pointed out that the Bowen Island Municipality Land Use Bylaw (LUB) restricts “living partially or totally in a tent trailer, motor home, camper or other recreational vehicle without a permanent foundation or permanent service connection.” Councillor Tim Rhodes said that it was the LUB that provided an obstacle rather than the building code and asked, “Can we do a pilot project with changing the LUB?”
Peter Frinton was one of the public speakers at the council meeting. Looking back on many years on council, he stressed the need to review the Land Use Bylaw. “It is out of sync and needs regular review,” he said. “The restrictions on forms and sizes of housing are inhibiting affordable housing.”
Councillor Wolfgang Duntz sees tiny houses as a potential creative solution to affordable housing needs. “If the regulations we have in place don’t make it possible, we need to look at those regulations and decide if we are willing to change them,” he said. “I see this as a pilot project that we can watch and see how it goes. Then we can decide whether it was a mistake or it went great.” Duntz believes that the question of housing affordability will not go away and demands a creative approach. “This project is different, it’s not mainstream. Rather than finding a reason to say no, how can we say yes without making sure that it doesn’t turn into a problem?”
Council referred Harding’s proposal to staff to sort out the matters of policy.