Laura and Jack Harris were renting in Canberra with their four-year-old daughter when they realized it would take them years before they could buy their own home.
- The Harris family moved to a property outside of Canberra where they set up their tiny home
- Like many young people, they feared they could save for a house deposit.
- Small houses are an attractive alternative housing option, but some say governments need to do more to support small houses
The Harris family competed in a rental market superior to any other capital city while facing rising house prices. Eager to save money and have some hope of one day owning their own home, they made a radical decision.
“The prices in Canberra are so high we couldn’t save for a deposit,” said Laura Harris.
“We saw living in a small house as an exit.”
They invested in their tiny house on wheels, a choice that allowed them to start paying less for a roof over their head.
But the change also meant moving from Canberra to property across the border at Murrumbateman, sharing the land with Laura’s parents.
Like many other workers in Canberra, Mr. Harris now commutes for 40 minutes into town, where he works as a chef.
But it’s a lifestyle the couple embraced, hoping they could one day buy a home they previously thought was out of reach.
The joys of living small
For Jack Harris, living in a tiny house isn’t always easy.
On the one hand, he is over six feet tall.
“Being a small house, everyone just imagines smaller people living there,” he said.
But there are also some positives.
“It gave us more time to spend together as a family,” he said.
They were also drawn to mini-house living as a more sustainable and minimalist approach to life.
“It’s a great way to connect with your family and not have too much stuff, and muddle your life with things that aren’t that important,” Mr. Harris said.
The biggest hurdle, however, was figuring out where they were allowed to set up their tiny house and the planning regulations that applied.
They quickly discovered that there were huge variables depending on the jurisdiction and, in any given state, the rules of the board where it would be located.
The restrictions caused them a lot of anxiety as they prepared to move their life and that of their daughter to the small house.
“Even just clarifying what a tiny house is would make it easier to read planning laws,” said Harris.
“If these rules were simplified a bit, it would clarify things a lot. “
The challenge of finding a place to park
Fred Schultz, who runs Fred’s Tiny Houses, has worked with people for years to make their dream of a cottage come true.
He said many people were struggling to get clear advice on whether their home was licensed or whether they had simply built it without getting government approval.
“People have lived tiny for a long time and don’t want to be discovered because they live in mostly illegal housing,” Mr. Schultz said.
But Mr Schultz said there is a growing appetite for smaller homes as people grapple with big mortgages and the environmental concerns associated with running a larger home.
“We have the freedom to build a trailer ourselves – you can take the hammer and you can do it legally.
“Part of it has to do with affordability, a big part of it that people value their footprint on the planet and try to live with their values in accordance with a smaller footprint of resource use on the planet. “
“A broken housing system”
Nicole Gurran, an expert in sustainable urban planning at the University of Sydney, said that small houses were becoming a necessity for some, even temporarily, was a concern.
Some developments are starting to incorporate cottage life into their designs.
Ginninderry, a development under construction in ACT, encourages buyers to consider a small house, provided it is built as a second home.
Those driving the development, which is being rolled out in partnership with the ACT government, have included provisions for small houses as long as the block is at least 500 square meters and the small house itself meets the requirements for it. ‘adaptability.
It is part of Ginninderry’s overall goal to provide a diverse range of housing styles, but it comes at the cost of a much larger primary residence.
Prof Gurran said that while this helps to some extent, by providing an alternative, governments should also focus on other solutions.
“And we must also accept the apparent appetite for smaller and more diverse housing typologies.”
For the Harris family, the choice to move into a small life proved fruitful, and the family encouraged others to do the same, if they could find a place to put their small houses.
“This is a great option for anyone looking to exit the rental market,” Mr. Harris said.