While Okotoks is forging ahead with plans to develop a Tiny Homes Eco Village in the centre of town, there are hints that the diminutive dwellings could soon cluster in Calgary too.
The popularity of tiny homes, also known as micro homes, has grown substantially in recent years with a push for more sustainable living. The trend was then perpetuated further on the small screen with a number of TV shows on their construction.
Dawn Smith, environment and sustainability coordinator for the Town of Okotoks, said that municipalities have, until recently, struggled with accommodating tiny homes in existing communities, running up against land use issues and neighbour concerns.
“We wanted to look at introducing a niche-type community and obviously tiny homes provides a very efficient lifestyle,” said Smith.
“Instead of trying to jam it into existing land uses, the idea was to create a village where the village is designed to cater to these homes.”
The Okotoks plan, developed in partnership with Calgary’s Vagabond Tiny Homes and their non-profit division Sagebrush Social, will have 32 separate units, split between affordable housing, market rental housing and vacation rentals. Furthermore, 15 per cent of the units will be wheelchair accessible and another 15 per cent will be for Indigenous renters.
Home size is expected to be between 300 and 600 square feet and they would not be the mobile variety of tiny homes.
Smith said typically these kinds of communities are in warmer climates where people can more effectively use the outside around their tiny homes – almost as an extension of the space.
“Up here in Canada, our climate doesn’t really allow that,” said Smith.
She said the plan developed by Vagabond created larger communal spaces that include a community kitchen, dining room, storage and flex space for work or to operate a business.
“It becomes that secondary space to kind of live in.”
The idea intrigues Calgary city councillor Druh Farrell, who said work has been ongoing to find a way to integrate tiny homes into Calgary’s housing market.
“It offers housing choice for people who don’t need a lot of space,” said Farrell, noting that the city recently amended city bylaws to address tiny homes.
Farrell said she believes there are parcels of city-owned brownfield land available in Calgary suitable for this kind of development.
Three in particular are earmarked for affordable housing. One is in the northeast, currently housing a temporary fire station. It’s the size of three standard city lots that might fit up to six tiny homes.
Farrell said she would also like to see developers include it in Area Structure Plans for new greenfield communities brought online in the future.
Currently, the city’s land use bylaw permits the construction of tiny homes, provided it is an allowable use for the way a particular area is zoned. They must adhere to the same rules under the Alberta Building Code as other single-detached dwellings and must also comply with all safety regulations.
“There are individuals that don’t want to live in multi-family and this could provide some options,” said Farrell.
“So, it’s certainly worth exploring.
Attainable Homes Calgary is one city group that’s gone past the exploratory stage on tiny home villages – or as they like to call them, pocket neighbourhoods.
Elizabeth Huculak, CEO of Attainable Homes Calgary, said the pocket neighbourhood concept is an ideal fit for their suite of services, which centers around providing low and moderate income Calgarians with downpayment assistance.
Their typical clientele can apply for a home up to the $350,000 limit in Calgary. The tiny homes would be far more affordable, according to Huculak.
“It’s great for young people who don’t need as much space, or seniors who want independent living but don’t want the maintenance and upkeep and want to live in more of a community.”
Huculak said that they’ve been approached by modular and tiny home manufacturers on possible community plans, along with developers and other Calgary non-profits focused on housing or housing support services.
One agency they work with said they’re entertaining the idea of redeveloping their single-family properties over time into the tiny home village concept, similar to Okotoks.
Few barriers now exist to bring tiny homes online in Calgary, Huculak said, noting that the city has changed bylaws to include them as a possible use. Provided the home meets Alberta Building Code (and if it’s a moveable version on a trailer bed, it needs to meet Canadian Standards Association for mobile homes), they’re a viable option moving forward.
For now, Huculak said we’ll probably see more traction in tiny homes in the form of backyard or garden suites and not full-blown pocket communities. She does foresee developers incorporating parcels of land in new community area structure plans specifically for pocket neighbourhoods with micro homes and the communal living spaces. It could be within three-to-five years, she said.
BILD Calgary – the group that represents housing developers in Calgary – was contacted to comment on the potential for tiny homes to be incorporated in future communities, but an interview or comment wasn’t provided by the time this story was published.
Whether or not the tiny home takes root in Calgary comes down to market acceptance and then gauging whether or not this is a legitimate affordable housing option.
“Is there really the level of demand that shown on the TV shows and in the media? The interest from average Calgarians is high,” she said.
“It’s new so it’s hard to tell. They (tiny home villages) need to evolve.”
Smith said as her community moves forward with the project, one of the biggest challenges will be neighbourhood acceptance. They’re taking away the town’s park space to experiment with a sustainable village, but it’s raised some concern among adjacent residents.
But both Smith and Coun. Farrell hope developers are a part of the conversation and they strongly consider innovative options in their upcoming communities for the housing options now on the table.
“It would be interesting to find out if some rules were just getting in the way,” said Farrell, noting that the more red tape there is the less apt developers are to jump on board.
“Or perhaps it just hasn’t caught on yet.”
Okotoks will be having a public information session for the Tiny Home Eco Village on Aug. 25 between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. at the town’s annual Chilifest.