A 'Fundamental Shift is Occurring' as People Flock to Tiny Homes

The coronavirus crisis is giving them a huge boost.

Tampa Bay Village
Tampa Bay Village.

Tampa Bay Village

Tiny houses are a conundrum. They were designed to look like, well, tiny houses, but they were built on chassis to recreational vehicle standards so that they could slip "under the radar" of building codes and zoning bylaws. Except the radars got better, and a tiny house without land was all dressed up with no place to go.

Escape Tiny House
Escape Tiny House.  Escape Tampa Bay Village

Dan Dobrowolski has been building tiny houses and giving them a place to go for a while; we have shown a number of his Escape tiny homes, and his Canoe Bay property in Wisconsin. Now he has opened a new development, Escape Tampa Bay Village, in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, and it is a real demonstration of how tiny houses have come of age.

Site Plan
Site Plan. Escape Tampa Bay Village 

Dobrowolski bought a run-down one-acre mobile home park and redesigned it as a tiny home community. What's the difference, besides the terminology of mobile vs tiny home? Park vs community? For one thing, space – he doesn't pack them in, there are only 10 tiny homes on the site. He put in a lot of native landscaping, and you can't bring in any old trailer; you have to buy one of his Escapes, which are built in his factory in Wisconsin to high standards, so there is a consistency and a feeling of quality throughout. Dobrowolski tells a local paper, the Business Observer:

It has to feel open and look a certain way. It has to look great. It has to give you space. You have to be able to breathe. I just can’t bring myself to stack units in next to each other like sliced bread, like a typical mobile home or RV park. You can do all the infrastructure right and then blow it on the look. You have to make sure it looks right.

This is something that people have been trying to do for years and it is a slow process; when I was trying to develop an eco-park in my pre-Treehugger days, I found that the circles in the Venn diagram of the people who understood and were willing to pay for tiny homes and the people who understood trailer parks never overlapped.

And then the Covid-19 crisis hits, and everything changed overnight. The people who would never consider living in a Park Model mobile home in a trailer park suddenly are seeing a tiny home in a community of like-minded people to be an attractive proposition. Dobrowolski tells Treehugger that demand is coming from all over:

The trend is so strong now for 1) escaping crowded housing and 2) just escaping major metro areas like NYC, LA & SFO, it is almost overwhelming. This is a major shift...we're seeing this all over the US with buyers.
Tiny House #9
Tiny House #9.  Escape Tampa Bay Village

There are many converging trends that I thought would make tiny homes a big thing; lots of aging baby boomers downsizing, the increasing ability of people to work remotely, the insecurities of the gig economy. Then the coronavirus hits and boom, everything is happening at once. Dobrowolski has now bought more property and will be tripling the size of the project.

As you know, there is a huge shift happening now...we have never seen anything like this in our business. Demand is up 110% from last year (and last year was a record) and climbing fast...a fundamental shift is occurring.
Common area meeting space
Common area meeting space.  Escape Tampa Bay Village

The first resident in the project is a young computer guy working remotely who was tired of paying rent; you can buy an Escape starting at $69,000 and rent the parking spot starting at $450/ month, making it all cheaper than renting (watch a video interview of him here). There will be a lot more like him; $69,000 doesn't buy a parking space in the big city. There are no shared corridors, no elevator, but there is lots of outdoor space and even a meeting/working zone in the middle. And when the water starts rising over Florida, you can just hook your home up and tow it away.

Unit 10 clad in steel
Unit 10 clad in steel. Escape Tampa Bay Village 

In many ways, tiny homes defy logic. All trailer homes used to be 8'-6" wide until the late fifties, when Elmer Frey of Milwaukee's Marshfield Homes pushed for changes in the laws to permit wider units. Stewart Brand wrote in How Buildings Learn:

One innovator, Elmer Frey, invented the term 'mobile home' and the form that would live up to it, the 'ten-wide' – a ten foot wide real house that would usually travel once, from the factory to the permanent site. For the first time there was room for a corridor inside and thus private rooms. By 1960 nearly all mobile homes sold were ten-wides, and twelve-wides were starting to appear.

It costs almost nothing to go from 8'-6" wide to 10 feet, and it is a lot more comfortable inside. But then it would be a Park Model Trailer, and Escape Tampa Bay Village would be a trailer park, not a Tiny Home Community. It's a whole different world.