The demand for Tiny House residential locations is still increasing. Municipalities are getting more and more questions from residents about the possibility of living in a small, simple and environmentally conscious way. But concrete residential locations are only appearing slowly. What is the reason for this, when this new form of living is clearly an answer to several issues that we, as a society, have to deal with?
The Tiny House pilot project in Alkmaar is a great success. The municipality will be looking for more locations for Tiny Houses in Alkmaar this autumn following a motion submitted by the political party Groen Links Alkmaar.
In my experience, this is due to two things: there is a misconception among municipalities of what Tiny Houses are and what the target group is, and there is a lack of land designated for ‘housing’. Several pilot projects with Tiny Houses have already started and some have even been completed. It is time for us to recognize this beautiful type of housing as the fully-fledged form of housing it is and to give it structural scope in spatial planning policy in the Netherlands. I would like to highlight a few bottlenecks and I propose solutions.
Expensive and scarce land
IIn the Netherlands you can only live on land with a designation (zoning) for housing, with the exception of tolerated living in a recreational park. Land with designation for housing is the most expensive in the Netherlands, ranging from around €165 per m2 in Groningen to € 555 in North Holland (source: ITX Bouwconsult). For a Tiny House you don’t need a large plot, yet small plots are scarce. Then your house must also fit into the zoning plan, which often indicates the type of housing that may be built. So, you need a small, free building plot, and there hardly are any of these available.
Many Tiny House aspirants enter into discussions with their municipalities and suggest locations themselves. Because Tiny House residents are generally nature lovers and outdoor people (I exaggerate a little), they often look at locations outside the urban or existing housing areas. In other words – rural areas, and that is, by definition, a complex case. We have decided in the Netherlands that living is only allowed within residential areas in order to protect the green space. Living in the outskirts is allowed, for example, if you have an agricultural business or if there is no way of building within the existing housing area and there is a demonstrable need for a home. The province also has something to say about that; they usually must approve or reject it.
Annemieke enjoys living in her “Tiny Sunshine” in Limburg. She is constructing a beautiful vegetable garden on an adjacent piece of land and wants to live as self-sufficiently as possible.
Housing quota, property tax and efficient use of space
Then there is such a thing as housing quota; the number of new homes that a municipality is allowed to build by the province. Municipalities sometimes have difficulty sacrificing a piece of their housing quota for Tiny Houses. There is a housing shortage and an apartment complex provides more accommodation than a few Tiny Houses. Moreover, as a municipality, you can collect more property tax for a large house than a small house. So, the municipality finds A: that the use of space is inefficient, and B: it provides too little income. I would like to say the following about this: not everyone thrives in an apartment and there are places where an apartment does not fit well. Moreover: Tiny Houses are not intended to solve the housing shortage, although they do contribute to that solution by promoting transition flow. People consciously choose a Tiny House because they want more connection with nature and/or people, less stuff and more freedom and because they want to reduce their ecological footprint. It is a conscious choice to live differently; it is about a different lifestyle. As a result, these people contribute to multiple objectives in the areas of sustainability, vitality, participation, transition flow, energy transition, circular economy, fighting loneliness, vitality, and so on. Is that not enough reason to make room for this type of living in the municipality? And aren’t those values just as important as earning money from hefty property tax? I should think so.
So, what is the solution? There is a strong need for small affordable self-build plots for small living. Municipalities could include in their housing vision a certain percentage of this type of plots in every new-build project, and take this type of housing into account in the zoning plans. Another solution is to allow large lots to be split into smaller lots, so that a group of Tiny House residents can buy or lease a large lot and inhabit it with multiple addresses. The group can purchase the plot as a CPO project (collective private developers) or lease from the municipality as an association or housing cooperative.
Mirjam on the porch of her Tiny Loft in Hardegarijp. “Here I can grow old. I am completely at home here.”
Living in the countryside
In addition, more and more thought is being given to housing options in the outlying area, see for example this recent report about Staatsbosbeheer. The transition from urban area to nature can be perfectly outlined by ecologically responsible Tiny Houses and their residents. Tiny House residents are generally not the type of residents who pave their gardens over with slabs, but rather they value biodiversity and enjoy gardening. Of course, there are also Tiny House residents who prefer to live in an urban environment, but many explicitly seeks to reconnect with nature. Provinces can play a role in facilitating Tiny House residential locations by allowing them on the edges between urban and rural areas. In addition, they could be more flexible with the housing quota for small-scale residential forms.
These are solutions that require a policy review, which is usually a lengthy procedure. It is important that a municipality or province is properly informed about what exactly Tiny Housing is, what the philosophy entails, what the target group looks like and which successful Tiny Housing projects already exist in the Netherlands. I can provide that service and I gladly do that. See this page for more information. One thing is certain: Tiny Houses are here to stay. As a municipality, you’d better make good, future-oriented policy on it. Why not see Tiny Houses as an opportunity to help achieve goals, and as an exercise in acting in the spirit of the upcoming Omgevingswet (environmental law)? Where there’s a will there’s a way!