Magazine article Reason

Washington's Beautiful, Illegal Tiny Houses: Architectural Minimalism Runs Afoul of Outdated Regulations in the Nation's Capital

Magazine article Reason

Washington's Beautiful, Illegal Tiny Houses: Architectural Minimalism Runs Afoul of Outdated Regulations in the Nation's Capital

Article excerpt

"I got driven down the tiny house road because of affordability, simplicity, sustainability, and then mobility," says Jay Austin, who designed a custom 140-square-foot house, which is part of a showcase community of minuscule homes located in an alley lot in Washington, D.C.

Despite its size, Austin's house--The Matchbox--is stylish, well built, and it includes all of life's necessities (and some of its luxuries): a bathroom, a shower, a modest kitchen, office space, and a bedroom loft. There is even a hot tub outside.

Clever design elements make the most of minimalism. Austin's high ceilings, skylight, and wide windows give the small space a modern, uncluttered, and open feel.

Ranging in price from $10,000 to

$50,000, tiny homes like The Matchbox could help to ease the shortage of affordable housing in the capital city, where the median price per square foot has climbed to a staggering $450. Heating and cooling costs are negligible. Rainwater catchment systems help to make the homes self-sustaining. They're an attractive option to the very sort of residents whom the city attracts in abundance: single, young professionals without a lot of stuff, who aren't ready to take on a large mortgage.

But tiny houses violate several city regulations. Among the many requirements in the 34 chapters and 600 pages of code that govern D.C.'s land use are mandates defining minimum lot size, room sizes, alleyway widths, and "accessory dwelling units" that prevent tiny houses from popping up all over the nation's capital.

Austin and his tiny-house neighbors can't actually live in their own homes much of the time. To skirt some of the zoning regulations, they've added wheels that allow the structures to be reclassified as trailers. This has a downside: As trailers, they fall under the purview of D. …

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