OGDEN — For now, two vacant tiny homes sit behind Emily Beeli’s home in Ogden’s older core.
Judah Becker, working with Beeli to fill them, thinks they may be part of the solution to the state’s housing shortage, and he reels off the potential market.
“A single mom or a veteran or anyone who’s the working poor,” he said, inside one of the small structures, measuring just 240 square feet and featuring a small living/dining/kitchen area, a bathroom and a bedroom. “Millennials love them.”
Such homes, however, aren’t allowed in Ogden, at least as city ordinance is currently written, according to Mayor Mike Caldwell, who’s met with Becker to discuss his vision, and there’s the rub. Planning officials are going to look into the notion of tiny homes, a trend that’s garnered plenty of national attention in recent years. But the enthusiasm of Beeli and Becker notwithstanding, there are a lot of factors to consider, the mayor warns.
If they’re placed behind established homes as accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, what sort of rules should apply to make sure firefighters can reach them in an emergency? What should the guidelines be pertaining to sewer, water and power connections?
“There may be some instances where it makes sense in the city,” said Caldwell, mindful of the well-documented housing crunch across Utah. But many questions would have to be ironed out first.
Becker, meanwhile, is anxious to get moving, has been pushing the idea as part of his Christian ministry, Mercy House Ministry, and has helped finance construction of three tiny homes in Ogden in all, none yet occupied. The retired contractor, an Ogden transplant from Washington state, is involved in a fourth tiny home in Brigham City, placed behind an established dwelling there and housing a single mom and her child.
“So far, a year later, it’s going fine,” Becker said. The owner of the Brigham City home works with the tiny home family, serving as a life coach of sorts, and the mom and her child have “gotten adopted” by the neighborhood.
Indeed, Becker and Beeli see tiny homes as more than just places to sleep.
They see the small structures — with a price tag of $35,000 to $40,000, much less than a traditional house — as creating a pathway to homeownership for low-income individuals, couples and single parents with kids. Per their vision, sprouting from a desire to help, they’d like to place the structures behind homes of families willing to serve as mentors to tiny house tenants.
It can be tough for those on a limited income trying to buy a house given rising prices and limited supply, Beeli said. Moreover, she would like to be resource to the tenants she hopes to get in the tiny homes behind her Ogden house, would like to develop a relationship with them.
“And there are a lot of people who would give up their backyards,” Becker adds.
‘A LOT OF QUESTIONS’
Tiny homes are variously geared to those who can’t afford a more costly full-size home and others looking to declutter and simplify their lives. They typically measure 100 to 400 square feet, according to The Tiny Life, a website dedicated to the tiny home movement, a fraction of the typical 2,600-square-foot home.
“You may choose a mini home on wheels or your small home may set on a foundation,” reads an explanation from The Tiny Life. “Most tiny houses are independent structures — some are parked on land with other buildings or a larger home. Other tiny houses are parked on their own lot.”
The 240-square-foot tiny home on Beeli’s property is on wheels and can be transported via a fifth-wheel connection. The other one, with 320 square feet of living space, including a loft area, sits on rails and could be placed on the bed of a truck for transport.
Both are rectangular and have connections for water and power. They feature the basic amenities of a full-size home — toilets, shower stall, kitchen sink — but are much more compact.
Years ago, Becker said, he took part in development of a tiny home community in Louisiana, meant to help displaced victims of Hurricane Katrina. His first attempted foray into tiny homes in Utah came last year, when he started building one on a rental property he owns in Ogden. City officials stepped in, told him his plans didn’t comply with city code, so he then reached an accord with an Ogden church to place several tiny homes on its grounds.
The church backed out, a frustration, so now Becker — who would offer the homes on a lease-to-own basis — is trying to work with city officials to bring his vision to fruition. He’ll “do everything we can, jump through whatever hoops or obstacles they have,” he said.
Tara Rollins, executive director of the Salt Lake City-based Utah Housing Coalition, lauds Becker for trying to come up with ways to tackle Utah’s housing shortage. But she brings up some of the same issues as Caldwell, points out that numerous details would have to be addressed if tiny homes were to be placed behind existing homes. What would be the guidelines for sewer and water connections? Where would financing for the homes come from? What about parking?
“I think there are a lot of questions that have to be addressed to make sure it’s a viable thing,” she said.
Whatever the case, there’s a need for housing. Utah currently has 54,000 fewer living units than actual households, according to a Salt Lake Chamber initiative aimed at addressing the housing situation, and the Utah Housing Coalition focuses on assuring affordable housing for the state’s residents.
Becker, meantime, talks of one day developing an entire tiny home community, with 100 or more units. “Think outside the box. Think about a smaller box, anyway,” he joked.
For now, though, he’s taking baby steps.
“We’re seeing all the levers we can pull,” Becker said. “It’s not a slam dunk. It’s new and it’s got to be felt out.”