The tiny housing movement has become a popular Western movement in recent years. It’s largely due to the current state of the housing market in the country. 

According to this study by Jasmine Ford and Lilia Gomez-Lanier, the average cost of a house in the United States is $304,000. That amount has increased faster than the pay for the average worker in the country, which has decreased over time. In the Philippines, small homes can cost between PhP 3.5 to PhP 5 million, increasing depending on its location. While smaller than the average in America, it still outpaces the average family income in the Philippines of a little over PhP 300,000 a year.

Tiny housing. Photo by James Frid. Source: Pexels.

With that in mind, the tiny housing movement’s momentum makes sense. For those dreaming of owning their own home, can a smaller space with all the essentials work just as well as a big one?

With that, we look into the tiny housing movement; its history, its flaws, and its viability in the Philippine context. 

What Tiny Housing Entails

Tiny housing represents more than just residing in a compact space; it embodies a minimalist/essentialist lifestyle. This approach is not solely focused on the physical size of the home but also embraces a broader philosophy of slow, simple living.

In practical terms, tiny housing typically involves homes ranging between 70 to 400 square feet. These homes are often designed with multi-functional spaces to maximize efficiency. Additionally, their construction frequently emphasizes mobility and the ability to live off-grid, reflecting a commitment to environmental consciousness.

A lot of the resources used in tiny houses are taken from sustainable practices. For example, many opt for solar panels and recycled construction materials in order to create the smallest possible carbon footprint. 

How The Movement Evolved

The movement arguably started in Japan, where the scarcity of space necessitated small housing. Known as kyosho jutaku (literally “small house”), it was a response to the lack of available residential real estate space in the country. However, it wasn’t until the year 2000 when it really started to pick up steam in the US.

Tiny housing is a very individualistic type of architecture, one that stands out because of the small space and the designs used. Architects, designers, and DIYers often work to maximize for this use the limited square footage available to create unorthodox living spaces that is both narrow and multifunctional.

tiny house loft
tiny house interior
BluPrint Adaptive Reuse Amoy Hotel Singapore
The URA allowed few changes to be made to the shophouse structure and partitions, so most of the hotel rooms are tiny (18sqm), and all are irregularly shaped and uneven.

When the Great Recession hit in 2008, many people found themselves homeless and out of work. As the housing crisis in the United States escalated due to lack of affordability and a shortage of homes, the tiny house movement became an essential part of the conversation of how we shelter people. Are tiny houses just an evolution of how we create and use affordable spaces in an ever-expensive world?

A Feasible Solution?

There has been criticism of the tiny housing movement that questions its sustainability and cost-effectiveness. Some point out that it doesn’t actually contribute to reducing the carbon footprint of larger houses and population centers. 

There have also been critiques regarding its supposed cost-effectiveness. Estimates in Ford’s study show that tiny homes can cost up to $61,000 (PhP 3.4 million). And yet, that doesn’t include the rental of the land it will sit in, the use of outdoor plumbing, or other considerations that might escalate the cost further in the long-term.

In a lot of places in the United States, the legality of many tiny homes have been put to question. Some worry that it could lead to the creation of shantytowns that have no proper access to electricity or clean water. In many places such as San Francisco, they are seen as illegal encampments and destroyed. 

A small housing unit. Photo by Melike Benli. Source: Pexels.

So it’s not as feasible as the proponents of the movement claim it to be. The best-case scenario is for it to be an environmentally-friendly and sometimes mobile living space that houses everything you could ever need. However, there are cases where tiny housing only offers a temporary stop-gap measure.

Would It Work in the Philippines?

Tiny houses in the Philippines is not yet a full-on trend. It’s more of a specialty market here in the Philippines than the full-on phenomenon it is in the US. 

We have special developers like Prefab Homes PH creating tiny houses that can be easily inhabited quickly. Many people are using tiny houses as a way to reconnect with nature, with some like Cubo Modular utilizing renewable sources for their buildings. 

Local examples of tiny housing include Burt Little Home in La Union. Built by Lala Llanes and Troy Ventura, it’s a space for slow and mindful living.

The wooden entrance of a tiny house surrounded by greenery and a stone walkway leading to the wooden door.
A man opens a closet next to a window seat surrounded by built-in cabinetry. A bed with white linens can also be seen.
A small indoor garden with a solitary tree and gravel next to a small kitchenette.
A small kitchenette next to the bathroom door revealing a small sink inside.

But its future here depends largely on how legal policies in the Philippines regarding zoning and regulatory compliance shake out. Increasing costs to maintain a typical home might incentivize people to push for more options regarding tiny housing. 

A Nuanced Discussion

It’s important to differentiate between the intentional tiny housing movement and the involuntary conditions in informal settlements, such as the shanties found in the Philippines. While both occupy small spaces, the comparison ends there. Informal settlements, often arising from socio-economic disparities, lack essential amenities and planning, leading to overcrowding and unsanitary conditions. This starkly contrasts with the tiny housing movement, which is a deliberate choice towards minimalism and sustainability.

The effectiveness of tiny housing in urban environments warrants a nuanced discussion. While tiny homes can be cost-effective and environmentally friendly, they might not be the most efficient solution in dense urban areas. For instance, high-density housing like apartment blocks can be more sustainable in cities due to better resource utilization and lower per capita land consumption.

The future of tiny housing as a mainstream option remains uncertain. Although it gained popularity following events like the Great Recession, suggesting economic factors play a significant role. Its adoption on a larger scale in urban settings faces logistical challenges. Urban planning research suggests the integration of tiny homes in cities requires careful zoning and community planning to ensure they contribute positively to the urban fabric.

Tiny housing may offer an innovative approach to living. But its application as a widespread urban solution requires careful consideration of urban planning principles, sustainability, and the socio-economic context. Its success in specific settings doesn’t necessarily translate to universal applicability, especially in contrast to the conditions in informal settlements. The distinction between choice and necessity is critical in understanding the implications and potential of tiny housing in different contexts.

Related reads: The Rising Popularity of Tiny Houses In the Philippines

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