Rutgers students conduct study on tiny home movement


Small living quarters are making a big splash in the housing market, according to a study conducted by four Rutgers graduate students on the tiny house movement sweeping certain regions of the U.S.

Graduate students in the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy conducted online surveys and interacted with people at tiny house meet-ups in order to gather data on homeowner demographics and different motivations behind living small.

Erika Dani, a second-year student in the Bloustein School of Public Planning and Policy, was introduced to the idea of small living when her father moved into a 168-square-foot camper trailer 10 years ago.

“There are always going to be people that want to live in a 5,000-square-foot house, but a significant portion of the population wants to live small,” Dani said. “The biggest issue is downsizing material items to make sure you have enough space for everything.”

The average tiny home is 186 square feet, while a standard-sized U.S. house occupies 2,100 square feet on average, according to The Tiny Life, a web resource for those seeking information on tiny living.

There are two demographics of people behind the tiny house movement, according to the research.

The first and largest demographic group interested in tiny houses, dubbed “tiny home enthusiasts,” are people in their mid-30s and mid-40s who are undergoing significant life changes.

“Maybe they got a divorce, they retired or their kids moved out of the house,” Dani said. “They might be empty-nesters looking for adventure after retirement.”

The second demographic interested in tiny homes are non-profit groups looking to build housing for the homeless population, Dani said.

Tiny houses are a good way to downsize, save money or get away from the usual way of living, said Rewa Marathe, one of the four students involved with the research.

Many people are interested in the environmental friendliness of tiny houses, said Marathe, a recent Rutgers alumni.

“The footprint of the house is small, so you’re not using as many materials or utilities,” she said. “So you’re really saving a lot of money and going green.”

Tiny homes are more affordable than standard homes, Robert Burchell, director of the Urban Planning and Policy Development Program, said.

The cost may be higher per square foot depending on various market factors, but the overhead cost is significantly less than a traditional house, Marthe said. A tiny home costs $20,000 to $50,000 on average if built by the owner, whereas a traditional home costs around $200,000.

The younger generation will be drawn toward the tiny apartment movement due to their convenience, accessibility and affordability, Marathe said. Compared to the tiny home population, the micro-apartment population consists of people between 18 and 25 who are interested in being close to amenities.

“You could buy a micro-apartment right next to a train station that leads to a city like Manhattan,” Marathe said. “It’s all about convenience and accessibility, which is attractive for millennials."

Millennials will be strapped with student loan debt, have little experience with the housing market and be interested in affordable living, said Burchell, chair of the Planning Department in the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.

Millennials will not be able to afford tremendous rent, but still desire an urban environment, Burchell said.

Urban tiny houses are being built in cities and units will be 300 to 400 square feet, Burchell said.

“Sooner or later … developers will be able to give you a 300-square-foot residence in prime Manhattan location and it will only cost $2,000 a month,” Burchell said. “(Millennials) would snatch that up in a heartbeat.”

Urban areas have large untapped potential with micro-apartments, and the next big market for tiny homes is recreational vacation homes, Burchell said. But suburban areas will not see the emergence of either tiny houses or micro-apartments.

“The question is whether this will make a serious dent in communities that are developing and have standard zoning laws,” he said. “That’s where the rubber will hit the road.”


Avalon Zoppo

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