Laura and Jack Harris were renting in Canberra with their four-year-old daughter when they realized it would be years before they could buy their own house.
- The Harris family moved to a property outside Canberra where they set up their tiny home
- Like many young people, they feared they could save for a security deposit
- Tiny houses are an attractive alternative housing option, but some say governments need to do more to support tiny houses
The Harris family competed in a higher rental market than any other capital while dealing with rising house prices. Eager to save and hope to one day own their own residence, they made a radical decision.
“Prices in Canberra are so high we couldn’t save for a down payment,” Laura Harris said.
“We saw living in a small house as a way out.”
They invested in their little house on wheels, a choice that allowed them to start paying less for a roof over their heads.
But the change also meant leaving Canberra for a property across the border in Murrumbateman, sharing land with Laura’s parents.
Like many other Canberra workers, Mr Harris now commutes 40 minutes one way to the city, where he works as a chef.
But it’s a lifestyle the couple have embraced, hoping to one day be able to buy a home they previously thought was out of reach.
The joys of living small
For Jack Harris, living in a tiny house isn’t always easy.
For one thing, he’s over six feet tall.
“Being a tiny house, everyone just imagines smaller people living there,” he said.
But there are also positives.
“It gave us more time to spend together as a family,” he said.
They were also drawn to living in small houses as a more sustainable and minimalist approach to living.
“It’s a great way to connect with your family and not have too much stuff, and jam your life with things that aren’t so important,” Harris said.
The biggest hurdle, however, was figuring out where they were allowed to put their tiny house and what planning regulations applied.
They quickly discovered that there were huge variables depending on the jurisdiction and, in any given state, the rules of the council where it would be located.
The restrictions caused them a lot of anxiety as they prepared to move their and their daughter’s life to the tiny house.
“Even just clarifying what a small house is would make it easier to decipher planning laws,” Mr Harris said.
“If these rules were streamlined a bit, it would make them a lot clearer.”
The challenge of finding a place to park
Fred Schultz, who runs Fred’s Tiny Houses, has worked with people for years to realize their dream of a tiny home.
He said many people struggled to get clear advice on whether their home was licensed or if they had simply built it without getting government approval.
“People have been living tiny for a long time and don’t want to be found out because they’re living in basically illegal housing,” Schultz said.
But Mr Schultz said there was a growing appetite for smaller homes as people faced large mortgages and the environmental concerns associated with running a larger home.
“We have the freedom to build a caravan ourselves – you can take the hammer and you can do it legally.
“Part of it is about affordability, part of it is people valuing their footprint on the planet and trying to live with their values in accordance with a smaller footprint of resource use on the planet.”
“A Broken Housing System”
Nicole Gurran, an expert in sustainable urban planning at the University of Sydney, said the fact that small houses were becoming a necessity for some, even temporarily, was concerning.
Some developments are beginning to integrate the tiny house into their designs.
Ginninderry, an under construction development in the ACT, encourages buyers to consider a tiny home, as long as it is built as a second home.
Those behind the development, which is being rolled out in partnership with the ACT Government, have included provisions for Tiny Houses as long as the block is at least 500 square meters and the Tiny House itself meets building requirements. ‘adaptability.
It’s part of Ginninderry’s overall aim to provide a diverse range of accommodation styles, but it comes with the price of a much larger primary residence.
Professor Gurran said that while this helped to some extent, by providing an alternative, governments also needed to focus on other solutions.
“And we must also embrace the apparent appetite for smaller, more diverse housing typologies.”
For the Harrises, the choice to move to a tiny house proved fruitful, and the family encouraged others to do the same, if they could find a place to set up their tiny homes.
“It’s a great option for anyone looking to get out of the rental market,” Harris said.