The city of Decatur is probably not the first place that comes to mind when you think of a tiny house. While the community has homes of all sizes, micro housing — considered 500 square feet or less — is not exactly the trend. New homes in the area are more likely to be mini mansions with a high price tag to match. But that may soon be changing.
“They are totally open to having tiny homes,” said William Johnston, executive director of Tiny House Atlanta. “They have no minimum square footage requirements. You just have to comply with building code.”
So when Johnston was looking for a place to hold the first ever Tiny House Festival, downtown Decatur seemed like a good landing place.
“People are talking about how cool tiny houses are, but no one is talking about why they are going tiny. No one is saying this has changed my life and this is why. That is what I am working on,” said Johnston, who also serves as a national board member of Tiny House America. “I don’t understand why we have made our world so expensive. Why can’t we make up our own rules?”
The conversation, he said, is much larger than talking about tiny houses. At the Decatur Tiny House Festival, which takes place July 30 – 31 on a two acre field near the city center — locals will have the chance to tour 10 to 15 tiny houses as well as attend symposiums on everything from sustainability, minimalism, urban planning, zoning, and downsizing and decluttering your life and your mind.
Tickets are on sale now ($20 – $35) and part of the event proceeds go to the Decatur Housing Initiatives Corporation, a non-profit dedicated to developing affordable housing in Decatur.
Interest in tiny houses has grown quite a bit over the years, but the actual number of tiny house dwellers is still relatively small. Estimates say between 5,000 and 10,000 Americans live in tiny houses on wheels.
Those homes can run as small as 172 square feet and cost from $30,000 – $100,000 depending on size and features.
The homes are mobile, but they are not called mobile homes or RVs, and the distinction is important. Members of the tiny house movement want these homes recognized as something you can live in 365 days a year.
On the other side of the movement are tiny homes on foundations. These are generally no less than 500 square feet and cost under $100,000 though location can drive up the price into the $200,000 and over range.
Atlantans are very interested in tiny houses, at least in theory, Johnston says. The metro area has the largest tiny house meetup in the country (Austin is next). Earlier this year during the Earth Day celebration at Ponce City Market in conjunction with Earth Share, Johnston and his business partner parked their $70,000 tiny house outside for three days and watched as 4,000 people took a tour.
“It shows people are interested and people are talking about the movement,” Johnston said. “People think they would have to live in it forever, but it can be a chapter just like any other structure in your life.”
And since most of us only use about 20-30 percent of our living space, it is not inconceivable that one could live in a smaller dwelling. Johnston has also noted that interest in tiny homes with a foundation now outweighs interest in the mobile tiny homes.
One of the biggest goals of Tiny House Atlanta, said Johnston, is to remove the stigma that living in a tiny house means living in poverty, particularly when the converse could be true.
“We equate small with poor, but what type of values do you want? To see a giant house or a giant bank account?” he said. “My goal is to make this mainstream. When everyone can have it, I am with you.”
Still, for now, many communities that are investing or considering investing in tiny housing are doing so through the lens of affordable housing. Johnston predicts that cities like Decatur and Atlanta will consider these kinds of projects as they become more feasible.
Johnston, who currently lives in a co-housing community, is working on offering tiny houses as vacation rentals, as well as creating actual tiny house communities in the metro area. He is looking for Atlantans who are interested in living in tiny houses that are centered around an urban farm and a community center.
“The tiny house movement is just a springboard for a better life,” he said. “It is about incorporating better living practices and improving the quality of life in America and all around the world.”
For more information on the Decatur Tiny House Festival, visit tinyhouseatlanta.com.