Q+A: Tiny Houses with Erik Blair
In an increasingly complicated world, new solutions are required to help solve old problems. Across the country, small ecovillages comprised of self-sustaining “tiny houses” are catching hold as a viable alternative to mainstream living scenarios. These small homes have the potential to alleviate the energy crisis through reducing our collective carbon footprint, to greatly reduce the rates of houselessness and to create new micro-economies independent of the mainstream, globalized economy. Summit sat down with entrepreneur, writer and tiny house advocate Erik Blair to talk about the potential he sees for the tiny house movement here in Hawai‘i.
Summit (S): What are tiny houses?
Erik Blair (EB): The tiny house movement is a way for some to carve out their own style of freedom in an economically oppressive era. People like the way tiny houses are less impactful on the environment. For many it’s also about being closer to friends, family and community rather than profits, debt and mansions. Others just want to have money left over at the end of the month and tiny houses provide them with enough shelter to be happy and save money.
The cost of living and the price of homes and rentals is so high that it has become a crisis in America. Tiny houses are just one of many alternatives that some are willing to try to reduce their reliance on traditional renting or buying real estate.
S: Why do you think the tiny house movement is catching interest? What problems is it solving?
EB: People are waking up and realizing that the carrot on the end of the stick isn’t the American Dream after all. many people feel that they have been sold a bunch of economic principles and an economic theory that doesn’t jive with nature or community.
Tiny houses provide adequate shelter at an affordable cost; they’re flexible and provide more freedom to adjust to economic trends and job losses; they provide mobility; they help people afford education and travel opportunities; and tiny house use less energy to heat and cool.
S: Do tiny houses work well in areas with limited space, such as Hawai‘i?
EB: Tiny houses are considered “house trailers” according to the Hawai‘i State Vehicle Code. Therefore, they do not need permits and they can be parked on Ag land. So we’re are not really as limited as you might think. On Maui, for example, we could find ways to use land where developers cannot build traditional housing and build tiny house villages there.
Those that want to live off grid in tiny houses might want to grow their own food and use rain catchment systems, which means they need to be in an area with lots of rainfall. Using solar means that they’ll want plenty of sunshine.
S: Are there things about Hawai‘i that make it better for tiny houses than other places?
EB: Hawai‘i is ideal for tiny house living because of the climate. People tend to spend more time outside in Hawai‘i to begin with.
S: Where are we in the process of establishing tiny house villages in Hawai‘i?
EB: I’ve been speaking with Maui County officials and some local landowners about land use and we are making progress. We plan to break ground on a tiny house village in late 2015 or early 2016 which will include several off grid tiny houses and a shared community garden.
One of the big obstacles has been the availability of trailers and the high costs here.
S: Are there particular success stories in other states that we can look to?
EB: I’ve read about several places on the mainland where success stories are popping up all over the country. It’s hard to narrow down one at this moment, but Oregon and Washington, D.C., have a couple of tiny house communities that are doing great things.
S: Is there any political or social opposition to the tiny house movement?
EB: Not yet. When the real estate investors and people who profit from real estate find out about tiny houses, they may try to stop people from accessing such a low cost alternative to their own housing options.
S: What are your thoughts on Hawai‘i’s land use, property management, construction, and development system?
EB: Urban development done right is where a community of people is at the center and business works around community. In Hawai‘i we enjoy living outdoors, living a recreational lifestyle with family and friends. The land use up ‘till now has been based off of the needs of corporations and developers. We need to change that dynamic.
To improve housing in Hawai‘i, the state and local governments need to adopt new policies that convince the local populace to feel free to find their own solutions to the housing crisis. We need to be able to try alternative housing methods: container homes, tiny houses, houseboats, hostels, community housing and more.
We need to fast-track the permit process, even waive the process for individuals or non-profits, so the community can make up housing shortfalls by building small structures, ‘ohana dwellings and small apartment complexes.
We need to make better use of county and state land for housing and, at the same time, put restraints on big developers who are not helping Hawai‘i to find housing solutions, but are simply lining their pockets.
Get involved with the tiny house movement in Hawai‘i: https://www.facebook.com/tinyhousehawaii