Saturday, June 26, 2010

Tiny Houses As If People Really Mattered [Anthony McCarthy]

Note: I’m unable to write this morning. Given that unemployment insurance extension is being blocked in the Senate, and, so, many more people will be unable to afford housing I thought I’d repost these two items from 2007 with more links to resources, which generally have worth while links of their own. I'll probably be writing about homeless people more in the coming months.

hen they retired from the farm, my grandparents lived in "the little house", about 16 feet square, four rooms and a water closet. There was also an outhouse in a tiny, unattached shed. Though it was a perfectly good place for two people to live and they had lived there with two of their children early in their marriage, it would probably never be allowed today. At least not unless it was on wheels.

The tiny house movement is a good thing, a rational reaction to the absurd mega-mansions that people have been gulled into wanting. Seems that a lot of people are rethinking letting a large house and mortgage eat up their lives. While some of the tiny houses are jewels of traditional and modern architecture, those are out of the income range of many who you really need a tiny house. As the Cooper Hewitt exhibit which featured the Mad Housers pointed out, there are 90% of the world who need to get through a life as well.

The Mad Housers began in Atlanta, Georgia. It's a group which builds tiny shacks for homeless people where they can sleep and get out of the elements. The houses are built by volunteers of donated materials and then turned over to the people they are built for. Their website shows two basic models, with plans. There is the 6x8' house with a sleeping loft and the 4x8' "low rider" for situations in which the housing has to be really inconspicuous. In northern climates they would have to include insulation, even with the tiny, funky home-made wood stoves they provide. While I'm not sure about the stoves, they say they've got a good record of safety. Still, I'd like to see one before I decide on it.

The Housers, like any well thought out shoestring group, has to be very careful about where they expend their limited resources and volunteer time. While the placement of the huts is often of marginal legality, there are some situations more marginal than others. I'm impressed at their practicality and realism. Some of their clients use the huts as a way to get out of destitution some of their clients are so down and out that they will probably never climb out.

Lending people money at a ruinous rate of interest, risking their falling into destitution is not only legal, it's encouraged by banking and lending laws. Providing housing for people living in the rough makes you an outlaw. Sometimes, at least. In their FAQ there is one dealing with the advisability of providing housing for people without houses as if being disparately poor without a place to sleep wasn't bad enough. Somewhere in the things I read for this post someone asks if people would rather have someone sleeping in their doorway or in one of these huts. Maybe that question is the best answer.

Taking Care of Unfinished Business
Or A Modest Disposal.

Responding to the post last week about the Mad Housers huts for destitute people, some readers asked what the inhabitants of these tiny huts would do about toilet facilities. I appreciate the practicality of their question about this, perhaps, second most important issue facing anyone who would live in such a tiny house. It could be pointed out that the Mad Housers' clients, already being homeless, would have long ago found ways to deal with the problem. You don' t need to have a house to have the need of a toilet. One can imagine many solutions, some of them quite hygienic, some far from it.

There is a simple alternative that might be considered, especially now that it's freezing cold. I read The Humanure Handbook a number of years back* and am pleased to find out that it is available as a free online download. When properly done, the odor is reported to be minimal and the sanitary implications minor and far simpler than dealing with plumbing. That is when it's properly done. You will want to observe the advice given in the book strictly, especially keeping the necessary compost well away from water sources and fully composting the waste. If you think the idea of using human waste as fertilizer is repugnant, there is an excellent chance that you are already eating food that is grown using some kind of human waste now. Human waste is widely used as fertilizer, wouldn't it be best to do so in a way that is more likely to render it safer?** That's not to mention that even the meat industry recommends treating poultry and other meat as if was hazardous waste. E coli, for Pete's sake. Enough said?

For some people finding a source of clean, uncontaminated, pressure-treated-free, sawdust or a substitute is probably the greatest obstacle but for many that might not be insurmountable. Jenkin's system is a better way than to dump it into the drinking water, a practice that has been accepted with remarkable equanimity considering what it means. We are all down stream.

* No further personal details will be given.

** Ideally all waste should be used to generate bio-gas to produce energy and cut down on methane being released into the atmosphere. Methane is known to be a lot more of a problem than carbon dioxide in global warming. There are many small scale biogas plant plans available.

UPDATE: From My E-mail Box Is this supposed to be funny?

The issue achieves a sense of urgency through the natural concerns of some astute readers. Actually, it's an issue to which we all give our full, though unconsidered, concern at least once a day. If we are fortunate. Though it's an issue which we are used to allowing to pass unconsidered shortly after the business is concluded. The problem, is however, a problem that is quite important and which requires more reflection. While we are happy to be relieved of it, untroubled, the problems flowing from it don't just float away never to trouble us again. Even with our modern systems of distraction and denial, the ramifications will inevitably pile up and demand our attention. It's a rather unsavory problem but one which becomes far more than distasteful when ignored.

Experience teaches us, though that such things won't be seriously considered; however, when someone does feel the necessity of bringing it forth. Not without a leavening in the lump. As it were. Still, it's not a subject that naturally lends itself to a dry wit, though a stale jokes are often resorted to. I think it's best to just let nature take its course, oiling the skids as necessary.