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Our view: Tiny homes: Quaint? Yes; Issues? Yes

Herald pull quote, 9/18/19
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Grand Forks seems to have cornered the market on apartments. When a housing crunch hit the city in the early 2010s, developers reacted, building numerous new apartment buildings. Back then, we reported only 2.8% of local apartments were available at any given time.

After a flurry of construction, the Herald reported in early 2017 that vacancy rates had climbed to 9%.

Similarly, the single-family home crunch of the early 2010s also has subsided as more homes have come onto the market.

So what gap remains? According to many, it’s affordable homes, and a developer is pushing an idea he says could make cheaper new homes available in Grand Forks.

Cody Bartholomew proposes building so-called “tiny houses” in the city. During a city meeting last week, he said he could fit four homes on a single 100-by-140-foot lot. The homes would be about 785 square feet, would have a single-car garage and would share a common area between them.

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Total price: Less than $200,000, depending on land costs.

“I feel like there’s a need for affordable housing in Grand Forks,” Bartholomew told the Herald. “I think this is a good option to work together with the city to provide an affordable housing option other than apartments.”

He isn’t yet saying where he wants to build, but city leaders likely will hear more about the idea during a Sept. 30 meeting. Among the issues for city leaders to consider are zoning ordinances, inspection criteria and location.

Tiny homes are becoming a chic trend, thanks to various television programs that depict their construction and their unique ideas to utilize every nook and cranny. Technically, the plan Bartholomew is proposing isn’t as “tiny” as some of the homes depicted in these TV shows; those often are 500 square feet or smaller.

And here’s an important distinction: Bartholomew’s proposed homes would not have wheels and instead would be placed on foundations. He said they will be “stick-built homes” with “high-end finishes.” We see this as a good method to ease potential concerns -- chiefly zoning concerns -- with the city.

Really, zoning often is the biggest issue faced by the builders of tiny homes. Would any established neighborhood truly welcome a complex that squeezes multiple dwellings onto a single lot? Possibly, but unless the complex is planned for a totally undeveloped area, it could come with controversy.

And can $200,000 for 785 square feet be considered truly “affordable” as apartment vacancies increase and traditional home prices decrease in the city? As noted in the Herald’s coverage last week, there are numerous traditional homes on the market for $150,000, although they often need some work.

We like the concept of tiny homes, and believe it is an untapped idea that could be a lure to young potential homebuyers in Grand Forks.

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But the concept isn’t as simple as they make it seem on TV.

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