A Southwest Florida city dipped its toe in the trendy waters of tiny houses Monday evening, and who the city is might surprise you.
Cape Coral — queen of the three bedroom, two-bath concrete block home on highly regulated platted lots — decided those creations seen on Tiny Homes Nation should be part of its real estate inventory.
Well, not all of them.
“What are we talking about here?” Dolores Bertolini, a Cape homeowner of 30 years, expressed the general angst about tiny homes that led to the direction the city will pursue.
“I know we want to downsize and make things affordable to everyone, but what will you do for land? How many people will you affect in doing this? I have so many questions,” Bertolini said.
The answer: Cape planners, who are already updating the city’s land codes, will add a special zoning area for tinies. They’ll be on foundations. And they’ll probably start at 610 square feet, about the size you end up with after you conform to all of Florida’s building codes.
What is a tiny home?
Despite an appetite for tiny homes sweeping the nation, the market for them isn’t clearly defined.
There’s the shelter-sized tiny designed for people whose incomes require rents of little more than $300 a month.
The tiny on wheels — like a homier, cuter RV — and larger, tiny homes as big as 800 square feet on foundations.
Councilwoman Rana Erbrick who asked for tinies to be placed on the agenda answered Bertolini’s question:
“I was thinking of smaller houses on foundations in the 600 to 800 square foot range, not on wheels,” Erbrick said. “Something for people just starting out, or a widow who no longer needs the extra bedrooms.”
Because Cape Coral’s minimum house size is 1,200 square feet, a tiny home could simply be one that’s smaller than that.
Cape homeowners like Bertolini who’ve bought into larger, same-sized neighborhoods fear what smaller housing types could do to their property values.
“To allow them to sit on any lot and drop them into a neighborhood of 1,600 square foot homes, it would make an impact,” Councilmen John Carioscia said.
For that reason, cities that are adopting tiny homes usually put them in ‘pockets.’
Cape Housing Coordinator Amy Yearsley cited the example of the Micro-Cottages at Williamstown, a duplex community in Lakeland, where 500 square foot one- and two-bedroom homes are going up for ages 55 and up. The community has a shared green and other amenities.
In fact, cost isn’t the biggest reason to allow tiny homes into the housing mix, the planner believes.
“Tiny houses are not a solution for the affordable housing needs we have in Cape Coral,” Yearsley said. “It would be a way to increase the variety of housing types we have.”
The ownership statistics she dug up for tinies may surprise you:
Tiny houses may cost less overall but cost more per square foot.
Almost 70 percent of tiny homes are owned outright with no mortgage.
The average cost to build a tiny home is $23,000 if built by the owner. The average cost of a standard-sized house is $272,000, plus $209,704 in interest on a 4.25 percent, 30-year loan.
Two out of five tiny home owners are over 50.
Tiny home owners are twice as likely to have an advanced degree, and earn about $478 a year more than the average American.
Justin Murphy, center, and wife Nicole Murphy, left, with their friend Anita Heminger are all smiles after Cape Coral leaders gave tiny houses a thumbs up Monday. The Murphys want to build tiny homes, and Heminger wants to live in one. (Photo: Patricia Borns/The News-Press)
‘When can I start building?’
Justin Murphy who grew up in Cape Coral and graduated from Mariner High in 2009, has been waiting for this moment to start his own tiny home business.
“Obviously the Cape can be pretty strict about things. Right off the bat we knew property values would be one of the concerns,” said Murphy, who’s going into the business with wife Nicole.
Murphy said he’s still working out his business model, but expects to target tinies in the 300 to 600 square foot range, built on foundations in a minimum 3-acre community. He’d prefer 10 acres.
“We’re thinking of a nice quality product,” he said. “Even with granite counters, the entry will be so much lower than a standard house.”
His own dream home? “A tiny mansion” for the couple and their two daughters of about 650 to 700 square feet.
Planning staff will work on code recommendations to bring before the council.
“I’m really on board with this. As long as we put them in communities,” Councilman Richard Leon said.
“I love the idea,” Councilman Rick Williams said.
Murphy and a group of friends who’d come to advocate for tinies were surprised and pleased.
“It went better than I was expecting,” the aspiring builder said. “Everybody was open minded.”