Tiny homes see roadblock in Cape Cod
By K.C. MYERS
Jan. 16, 2018
PROVINCETOWN, Mass. (AP) — The tiny home movement has really taken off, except that no one on Cape Cod or the Islands has been able to legally live in one.
Even on Nantucket, which passed a bylaw allowing tiny homes in 2016, none have been permitted because state building codes still make them illegal, said Andrew Vorce, Nantucket's town planner.
It's no different in any other town.
"The (state) building code is where the real bump in the road is," said Victor Staley, Brewster's building inspector.
But Dana Hope, of Provincetown, bought one anyway. She hopes her commitment to her tiny property becomes the impetus for Provincetown to figure out how to permit these places that would affordably allow Cape Codders to own a home.
"Tiny houses are a win-win," Hope said. "I want to be able to afford my life. To go out to dinner and to have just one job."
But last week, the Provincetown Board of Selectmen ruled that tiny homes on wheels are unrealistic.
Tiny homes, which are on wheels and not connected to sewers, electricity or water, are "not going to happen," Selectman Louise Venden said.
"I'm a realist," Venden said. "If Nantucket passed a law and they can't do it, then how can we?"
The answer angered Hope, who is approaching 60 years old and has lived in Provincetown for 11 years. She has trouble counting the number of ways she earns income now. She works full-time for the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod and is the part-time custodian for the Provincetown United Methodist Church. She clean houses, dog walks and dog sits, she said. She'll need another part-time job in the summer.
She also volunteers at a local food pantry and thrift shop.
"I'm blessed to have all these year-round jobs," Hope adds. "When people say there are no year-round jobs, I say, 'Crap, I took them all.'"
But her housing struggle has been real. In the 11 years she's lived in Provincetown, she's been forced to move four times. She is nowhere near being able to afford to buy a home in Provincetown, where a median-priced condominium was $525,000 in 2017, according the Cape & Islands Association of Realtors.
So she bought the 200-square-foot home for $16,000 in Vermont. The cedar clapboard structure now sits at a parking lot outside of town, where people store unused recreational vehicles.
Hope is having it completely rebuilt with a composting toilet, rain barrels, solar panels and a tiny woodstove so she can live "off the grid," without water, sewer or electrical service.
Her vision is to place it in a friend's or employer's yard. Many second homeowners with space in their yards have told her they would help, she said.
The house would give her pride of ownership and stability that's critical for a healthy life.
"Simplifying is really important for my happiness," Hope said. "I get overwhelmed and then I get sick."
She's had two bouts of pneumonia and migraines, which led to lost work time and more stress.
Officials in Provincetown are trying to be creative. Assistant Town Manager David Gardner said 420 dwellings in town are currently 400 square feet or less. While cottages or condos like this cost more than $200,000, the price of a tiny home is under $25,000.
Yet the affordable, back-to-nature structures don't seem to jibe with existing Cape Cod regulations.
They could be considered mobile homes. Then they would be only allowed in trailer parks, said Heather Harper, affordable housing and community design specialist at the Cape Cod Commission.
But mobile home parks aren't allowed in many towns. When they are, they often have trouble with septic systems, she said.
Tiny homes are not so much a reality in Massachusetts as a movement; they are more successful in states that have less rigid building codes, Vorce said.
The Cape Cod Commission, which advises towns on strategies for affordable housing, is focusing on more acceptable ways to get affordable housing to as many people as possible, Harper said. The people who want tiny homes are on the margins of the population, she said.
Venden sees changing bylaws so that people can add accessory dwellings on small lots and in their homes is the best way to go for now.
"Fish where the fish are," Harper said. "We need to focus on what will work for most working families and year-round individuals."
Hope, however, is trying to remain hopeful. She plans to get her tiny home ready by April's town meeting for voters to tour, and to think of as a positive solution for year-round residents. If Provincetown cannot accommodate her tiny house, she'll haul it to Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, where she owns land.
"I'm really tired of Provincetown and of Cape Cod," Hope said. "They have a huge problem. If they let these good things go by the wayside, they are going to lose the whole community."
Information from: Cape Cod (Mass.) Times, http://www.capecodtimes.com