Micro-housing that is too expensive to solve the problems of affordable and sustainable housing

Micro-housing may lead to some cool design opportunities but it may not solve important problems: providing more affordable and sustainable housing.

Which is, of course, the problem with zeroHouse: Nobody needs micro-housing in places where plots of prairie, mountain, and sea (!) are available in plenty.

Now, the zeroHouse might not be designed for the urban dweller at all. Several of the home’s signature features seem as though they’re meant for another type of buyer altogether. The design specs note that the house is entirely secure, with tempered “Sentry-Glass” windows, Kevlar-reinforced doors, and fully mortised locking systems. (Shocking that a house that looks like a Transformer could double as a bunker!)

Given the design features, land-parcel requirements, and other aspects of the building’s design—it can go into an energy-conserving “hibernation” mode for extended period of times—zeroHouse sounds like it might be better suited for Cliven Bundy country than for downtown infill construction. But then, that Manhattan Micro-Loft isn’t a much better model for addressing the lack of affordable housing in major U.S. cities.

I don’t mean to pick on Specht Harpman Architects, a New York- and Austin-based firm that’s mostly in the business of designing interiors and elegant single-family homes. Tiny-house offenders are everywhere, from the pages of any shelter magazine to the real-estate section of the New York Times, where per-square-foot costs and land allotments are out of sync with what (say) most New Yorkers need from micro-housing.

From what I’ve seen, much of the interest in tiny houses is driven by two market segments: (1) architects, designers, and other creative types who relish a new puzzle (how do you fit a lot of desirable features into a smaller amount of space) and (2) “downshifters” (to borrow a term from sociologist Juliet Schor), people deliberately trying to limit their consumption by limiting their living space as well as how much stuff they can accumulate.

Of course, there are some interested in micro-housing for its ability to address affordable housing and sustainability issues but several things still hold the micro-housing market back: zoning issues, a lack of large-scale building of these units thus far which would make them appear more normal and more practical to build with economies of scale, and price points that may not be cheap enough for the affordable market.