The Trouble with Tiny Houses

It’s hard to get loans for them. Jay Shafer (the builder who started the Tiny House movement) on why loans for tiny homes get turned down..

Despite his Zen-like calm, Shafer is enraged over the paradox that banks deny people loans for tiny (read: affordable) houses while simultaneously selling them too-big homes that become “debtors’ prisons.” After struggling to pay the mortgage, people find themselves at the mercy of foreclosures. “Then there are the bail-outs,” says Shafer, “which means everyone eventually pays.”

Not only do banks refuse to finance tiny houses, most state laws mandate that the smallest a legal house can be is 220 square-feet, in order to “keep the riff-raff at bay and to protect property revenue,” says Shafer. Indeed, given the shameless corporate green-washing of the past two decades, it’s ironic that banks continue to enforce what Shafer calls “mandatory consumption laws.” After all, the bigger the house, the bigger the consumptive pattern, the more there is to heat, cool, furnish, clean, decorate, and insure.

On the other hand, living small helps to thwart corporate greed and, given the space limitations, actually makes consumption a barrier to good living. When Shafer switched to living tiny, he got rid of all unnecessary accumulations, including his artwork. “I took pictures of everything,” he says, and then, too impatient to even sell the paintings, “I took them to the dump and watched them get buried by a tractor.” Shafer believes that disentangling from “the secular idolatry” of things makes people happier. “Getting to know oneself,” he explains, “is largely a subtractive process.”

A self-described “claustrophile,” Shafer might be one of the few who’s actually benefited from the economic downturn: as money gets tighter, so do people’s living spaces. His self-published tome, “The Small House Book,” has seen a sharp rise in sales, and his company currently sells about ten sets of tiny house plans a month. “We’re essentially selling a dream,” Shafer explains, noting that activists and artists are his most common customers.

Read more of this article, “Wee Shall Overcome: Tiny Houses, Big Plans,” (

See also:

“We the Tiny House People,” a documentary by Kirsten Dirksen (see the guy who lives in a 78 sq ft. apartment in Manhattan!).
* Nerd Girl Homes (Santa Cruz)
* Tumbleweed Tiny House Company