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Tiny home movement gains momentum in the Corridor

Bigger not always better

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Step aside, McMansions. Tiny homes are here to stay, and seem to be making their way to the Corridor.

Iowa City resident Greg Johnson was an early adopter of the movement. After founding the Small House Society in 2002, Johnson built a 140 square foot home where he’d live the next six years.

The 10-by-7-foot home was purposely designed to be “absurdly small” to attract attention, Johnson said. He wanted to show others just how little they needed.

That home did not have running water or a bathroom. The workspace, living room and kitchen were in the same room and the bedroom was lofted above. With arms outstretched, Johnson could almost reach across both sides.

He didn’t need a shower at home because he’d bathe at the gym after a morning workout. In fact, most of his time was spent out in the community, he said. He’d bike to work, coffee shops, restaurants, the laundromat or the nearby grocery store, only coming home to sleep or make a meal on the small portable stove he’d position onto a foldout table.

Had he not married his wife — who wanted “fancy things” like a flushing toilet and shower, Johnson joked — he may have stayed. He enjoyed the simplicity and efficiency of the lifestyle. He had more free time, money and reduced his environmental footprint.

Although he’s since sold the house, he has seen the movement continue to grow nationally and even globally as the cost of living rises and environmental concerns grow.

Diane Leckness, a 54-year-old widow, is currently looking into building a tiny house in Cedar Rapids. Since she lost her husband in 2009, she’s been renting a place with her daughter, but she’s grown tired of the high price of rent.

When moving to Iowa City 11 years ago, 43-year-old Steve Goetzelman found his 500- square-foot home for much lower than what it might cost him to rent in the pricey college town. For $82,000, he bought and fixed up the small home, which features a somewhat “open-concept living, kitchen and dining space with an Ikea dining table that folds out from the wall. Goetzelman added a small bathroom in the closet, laundry and storage area below his lofted bedroom — just big enough for his bed and a lamp.

When going tiny, utilities are usually inexpensive, too. For Goetzelman, a wood-burning stove at the center of the house takes little wood to heat the whole space, he said.

In Cedar Rapids, the Tiny House Work Group has been working to form a tiny home neighborhood that could provide affordable housing to entrepreneurs, veterans, retirees, homeless individuals and young professionals.

“Housing is a stability force,” said Susie Weinacht, a Cedar Rapids City Council member who formed the group in an attempt to fill the “gap in the housing market.”

Affordable housing, she explained, helps new businesses grow and keeps young professionals here by giving them an affordable place to live.

“I’m very much into building hope and future and growing and keeping our kids,” she said. “If we have youth here who are able to afford a home at a younger age, then perhaps they can build equity for the future.”

After working to fit the city’s code requirements, the group came up with a design that would be a “planned unit development,” or a neighborhood of several 500-square-foot homes hooked up to city services. They would not have wheels like some of the popular models of tiny homes; instead, they would rest on foundations as required by city code.

“This is not like

‘Tiny House Nation,’

the TV show,” said Marty Stoll, a real estate attorney and manager of the Tiny House Work Group.

As the group gets closer to setting its plan in motion, Stoll said it continues to gain interest from community members.

After its first meeting in August, it already has at least 30 members in the group and even more interested in buying a tiny home. “Once we identify a developer, we can get going (on building),” Stoll said.

Stoll said the Cedar Rapids group hopes to use the project to show how many people are interested in alternative housing options, with the hopes that “other groups might say we want to do a tiny house development, too.”

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