Tiny house villages.

ADU Questions & Tiny Community Idea

Image courtesy of Blokable

Image courtesy of Blokable

Great ideas, Diane H (see questions above). I believe the Housing Trust SV is trying to simplify the process and be the one-stop shop/portal you suggest is necessary in your question. Having said that, here are some of the resources the WNAC has tracked on ADUs


Regarding your thoughts about creating mini-ADU communities within existing neighborhoods, I think that is a great idea and consistent with the type of suggestions that were made at the Teachers Village & More Forum as an opportunity to create more mid-density housing that would be relatively affordable (see here https://winchesternac.com/2018/06/02/what-about-adding-teachers-housing-to-dicks-center/).

For instance, what if a 1/4-acre suburban lot was repurposed to be a tiny home community, such as found at LUXTINY in Arizona? This tiny home community has about 7.5 units per acre (45 units on 6 acres).

Tempe Tiny Home Village 1443 South Rita Lane

Proposed Tempe Micro Estates from Newtown CDC in Tempe, AZ

A better example, again from Arizona, is the Newtown Community Development Corporation Community Land Trust and their Tempe Micro Estates proposal. They are planning 13 each, 600 square foot homes on a 0.57-acre plot of land in a single-family neighborhood of Tempe, Arizona. They are effectively subdividing the land, so each home has its own plot, including a small yard, along with a common area for a community garden, community room, and a shared parking lot (one parking space per home). Their stated goal is as follows:

“These homes are designed for maximum flexibility, allowing for affordable, high-quality housing for artists, healthcare, restaurant, and service workers who are on the low- to moderate-income scale. Targeting people who may work in Tempe but who otherwise cannot afford to purchase a home here. Our goal is to balance the pros and cons of traditional tiny-home developments with the current demand we’re seeing from our clients.”

My only criticism is that there is too much land devoted to parking and that there might be an opportunity to unbundle parking and offer alternatives to traditional car ownership [a great primer on parking and the question of whether the costs of building for cars versus people is provided in this infograph by BetterParking101 (PDF)].

Micro Estates in San Jose?

That said, could something like the Tempe project work here? I believe the answer is yes, assuming appropriate policy changes that would allow this sort of upzoning. Assuming the policy changes, the simple math is:

  • 10k square foot lot (just less than 1/4 acre) that costs $1M (obtaining land for this price could be the biggest challenge)
  • 10 each, 300 to 700 square foot buildings (8 residences, 1 community room, 1 garage for a shared vehicle) that cost $100k each on average (based on the Kube Living models or Blokable at $150-$350/square foot ), this could be feasible. If 3D printing technologies fulfill their potential, such as PassivDom ($64-$97k) or Apis Cor (direct printing of buildings onsite for approximately $10k), then the business case becomes a slam dunk (even accounting for extras, such as appliances, plumbing, etc).
  • plus $400k for other costs, such as demolition, plumbing, permit/impact fees, etc. landscaping, etc. (say for a total of $2.4M). This would also have to include the developer’s profit.
  • that would amounts to $300k per residence ($2.4M/8 residences) per residence, which translates into $1,432/month payment for a $300k 30-year mortgage at 4.00%.  Of course, there would need to be ongoing maintenance, insurance and other common costs added to that number, but even with these other factors, it would still be well under $2,000 per month for a new house.
An elderly person could potentially redevelop her home into a multiple unit, tiny home community. This would allow her to live in one of the new units and generate cash-flow that would allow her to comfortably stay in the same neighborhood, where she raised her kids. More importantly, she would have the companionship of nearby neighbors.
The above numbers are still expensive, but much cheaper than the typical Silicon Valley domicile. Plus, the density could help actually create neighborhoods, instead of walled-off castles where cars and their associated garages isolate neighbors from each other.

Some of the zoning issues that would need addressing and principles for addressing those issues, include:

  1. It would be important to create quality housing that blends in and doesn’t looks out-of-place in the given neighborhood.
  2. Ensuring permitting costs track common costs for the entire development, which should presumably be less than if each unit was permitted separately, like a single family home.
  3. Similarly, school impact fees would have to reflect the expected real impact, as the number of children per dwelling would probably be lower than the typical single family dwelling (e.g. most of these residences would probably be starter houses for young couples or homes for single people or elderly residents).
  4. Methods to prevent and/or charge for overnight, on-street parking from the new residents, so, the new houses do not negatively impact the existing neighborhood.
  5. Perhaps this sort of upzoning, at least initially, would have to be within a walkable distance from public transit. As new forms of low-cost, public transit become readily available, then the distance from public transit could increase.
  6. The above model probably doesn’t work, where every individual or housing unit has a car. But new modes of transport, such as shared cars, rideshare, electric bikes and scooters, low-speed autonomous ride-share shuttles, change all of the traditional assumptions. Mobility alternatives for the new residents would be needed, such as potentially
    1. making a ridesharing shuttle available (e.g. such as what is available for at Santana Row and Westfield Valley Fair for employees).
    2. including a bike repair station as one of the amenities when the complex is constructed.
    3. working with a shared car company to ensure that a car and/or truck is available when needed. This vehicle(s) might also be available to the neighborhood, which could be a benefit (think shared pick-up truck).

But the above idea, if it is to happen anywhere in the Bay Area, will require a fundamental change in mindset about housing. This sort of development would slowly change the face of neighborhoods; but that is already happening, as old post-World War II homes are replaced by so-called monster homes. Unlike monster homes, tiny homes provide the opportunity to redesign neighborhoods around humans, instead of the automobile. If done right, the neighborhoods should become more walkable and become better communities.


  1. Here is a real world example from Minneapolis, MN, where 6 dwelling units are being added to a 7,500 square foot, former single family lot. It is within 1/4 mile of transit and fits with the character of the neighborhood. This equates to a density of about 35 homes per acre. From the application:

    “Applying the principles of transition zoning, mixed-use or single-use buildings from two to six stories in height can achieve significant increases in the intensity of land use without sacrificing neighborhood quality. In fact, increased densities attract amenities such as enhanced convenience retail and personal service commercial uses, civic open space and community facilities that are essential to urban pedestrian-oriented neighborhood life.”


    and the discussion about this project on Twitter:


  2. This article, which complements the above idea
    and references this article from the Catholic World Report talks about the importance of community for the mental well-being of the elderly. It describes current elder-care facilities as “It is automobile-centered development for those who can’t drive—the conceptual equivalent of building a facility on an island for people who have no boats and can’t swim.” The article discusses “The ‘God’s-Houses’ of Bruges” which were micro-communities built for “elderly women in need.”
    and points to this project, which is a different way of providing elder care
    The guy who founded that venture also started a modular homemaking company to make the homes

    The only thing that could probably be added to the above would be adding cross-generational living, such as is done in the Netherlands in this project that mixes young and old. I didn’t find the specific reference I had seen before, but I did find this interesting report on the topic of communal and intergenerational living in the Netherlands and Denmark

  3. Thanks Ken, this is some great food for thought. We are going to have to think out of the box to resolve the housing crisis in a sustainable manner.

  4. This is an interesting excerpt from “Brave New Home: Our Future in Smarter, Simpler, Happier Housing,” by Diana Lind that talks about creating (my words) a “whole life experience”, instead of just providing basic shelter. Some of the things suggested, such as Telemedicine, are probably more practical today than when this was written, given the change in behavior and rules due to changes in 2020.


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