RSG COVID-19 Economic Response Team →

Trend Toward Tiny Houses

Photo courtesy of the FYI Channel's Tiny House Nation TV Show
Photo courtesy of the FYI Channel's Tiny House Nation TV Show

Photo courtesy of the FYI Channel’s Tiny House Nation TV Show

Can tiny houses – very small houses that are popular, trendy and more affordable than ordinary houses – solve the affordable housing crisis in California? 

According to “The Tiny Life”, people are increasingly choosing tiny houses (100 to 400 square feet) over the typical American home (2,600 square feet) because of “environmental concerns, financial concerns and the desire for more time and freedom.” As the story says, “Tiny houses come in all shapes, sizes, and forms, but they enable simpler living in a smaller, more efficient space.” 

By “living tiny,” people can conserve their income and avoid living paycheck to paycheck. In California, this could mean the difference between ownership and renting or shelter for people who might otherwise be homeless.

In order to make tiny houses truly affordable, there will need to be some changes in zoning. According to, “Zoning can allow for small secondary residential spaces on a lot, known as ADUs (accessory dwelling units) or granny cottages, in-law units, secondary dwelling units, and tiny houses. Most often, local ADU regulations require a unit to be on a foundation…Zoning can also allow for a single tiny house on a city lot or a piece of land. The most common challenge is zoning that specifies a minimum size for any main residence… A property owner…may be able to apply for a variance that would allow for a tiny house despite it being smaller than the minimum size required.”

In order to make tiny houses an option for affordability in California, people will have to navigate these nuances. Meanwhile, cities can help by clarifying their zoning codes to provide understandable guidelines to ADUs.

Written by Jane Carlson, an Associate at RSG