People often say they’d like to live in a “tiny house community”, but what would that look like? What kind of “home” could balance your needs for independence and interaction with others? Lina Menard found her answers to those questions in the Simply Home Community.
Lina’s passion for housing and community building started young. She was 14 when she became fascinated with cohousing, a type of intentional community that blends privately owned homes with collaboratively-shared common spaces. In her early 20’s she discovered tiny houses and decided to build her own, but detoured through several rented small spaces first. She spent a couple years renting two different tiny houses on wheels and a yurt, all located in backyards around Portland, Oregon, where she experienced different ways spaces are shared or not shared, and how that affects whether the people in those spaces stand alone or are held by others.
A Different Model for Home
Lina’s involvement in the tiny house movement in Portland stretched through her academic studies, her professional paths as a tiny house designer and consultant, and her personal life, which included helping run a series of potlucks for tiny house enthusiasts. One of the group’s “subcommittees” investigated how to buy land to create a community of multiple tiny houses. One member of the group found an oversized lot with an existing home, and made an offer. When the time was finally right for Lina to build her own tiny house, the wheels of the Simply Home Community were in motion, and she hopped on board.
It’s not the typical “tiny house in a backyard” scenario, nor is it an “RV park for tiny houses.” Lina is part of a unique tiny house community modeled after cohousing designs: several tiny houses share a lot with a big house, but they also share the big house itself. Some people have “roomies”; Lina has “landies.”
I’m thrilled to share this first part of a two-part post about Lina’s unique story of her experience with the Simply Home Community, as well as some information about the zoning and legal rationale for the community. The group knows to expect the unexpected when you’re pioneering, but Lina is game to share what she can because, “Once you’ve fessed up to the Mayor, you get a little less scared about being bold.”
You can learn more about Lina at Niche Consulting or her personal blog covering years of interesting homes, This is The Little Life. You can find more personal stories of tiny house living in my ebook Life in a Tiny House, or sign up for my mailing list for more interviews and home visits.
Lina: “It’s amazing how often somebody says, “I’ve got this great idea! I want to have a tiny house, but have a bunch of them, and have them all together!” It’s really fun that so many people come up with this idea independently, and that there’s so much interest and enthusiasm around it.
A lot of people haven’t actually done it, though, because it’s hard enough to figure out where to put one tiny house. To try to figure out where to put a bunch of them is really a challenge. Not just in terms of the physical space, but the legality.
Simply Home Community is a piece of property that’s owned right now by a couple of individuals, but the intention is to shift ownership to the LLC [A multi-member Limited Liability Company made of most, but not all, members of the community]. It all got started because a group of us who were all tiny house enthusiasts wanted a place where we could all legally share space and resources. One of our subcommittees of that group looked into property. This small group became an offshoot of that, and ended up finding a piece of property and deciding to move forward with it.
There’s a big house, where we have three people living, and currently we also have a guest room. Everybody in the community has full access to the big house kitchen, dining room, living room, bathroom, and laundry. That works out really nicely because we can have game nights, we can host dinner parties, we can do movie nights, and when we do have guests, they can stay in the guest room.
Then we have four little houses on the property that are basically acting as “detached bedrooms” – a little space of our own. For instance, being able to use the bathroom in the big house means that I don’t have to have those facilities in my little house. Being able to cook a big meal for the community means that in my little house I can just make my breakfast, pack my lunch, and not have to do a big cooking event in here.
I really have the best of both worlds in terms of having my own space that is all mine, where I don’t share walls or have to worry about whether I’m going to disturb anybody if I turn the light on and read, but I get to have the benefits of having a bigger space. I hosted a dinner party for 10 in the big house a little bit ago, which was really fun. I couldn’t have done that in a tiny house.”
Community and Legality
Lina feels the cohousing element of the community may even strengthen their legal right to live there, because they operate like one large household. Feeling like they’re on decent legal footing is one asset of that, but the other is to experience the benefits of being part of a close community:
Lina: “What’s illegal is living in a non-habitable structure: tents, trailers, RVs, et cetera. I guess it’s kind of questionable whether you would say I “live” here or not. I do my bathing and toileting in the big house. I cook some of my meals in the big house, I make my tea and my toast and jam here. I sleep here. So where am I living? I’m living on the property. I’m living in the community. But I don’t do all my living inside this box.
I think that if we were each living independently… If the people in the big house were renting out spots and we never had any interaction with each other, or never had access to the big house, I think that’s actually when we’d have more trouble. But as it is, the little houses are kind of an extension of the house – the “detached bedrooms” that are associated with the big house.
We share a lot of responsibility. We share a lot of resources. We share some of our purchasing – we just started a list of things that we’re going to share in bulk. We have shared chores, we do work parties, we have house meetings. Half of our meetings are with regard to logistics and coordinating ourselves, and the other half are about getting to know each other better and care about each other more.
I wasn’t sure, after living alone for three years, that I would be able to live well in community. I was nervous about it. But it’s been really great. I’ve had some level of community everywhere I’ve been in town. It’s not like I’ve been totally isolated. During hard times, people have helped each other out in the other places I’ve lived too. I often have shared meals a little bit with other people, but it’s more intentional and consistent here, and that was something I had wanted.
A lot of the really good stuff of community is happening here. I have especially enjoyed our meals. I can cook a great big dinner one day a week, and come home to a nice, delicious dinner three or four days a week. That’s really sweet. [laughs] It’s nice just to be able to run errands together sometimes. There are times when somebody needs something and says, “Hey, I’m running to the hardware store, the grocery store, wherever,” and people pitch in and help each other out.
I wasn’t sure I would necessarily hang out with my landies as much as I do. I like them a whole awful lot, but I wasn’t really sure what our level of engagement would be. I didn’t know whether we would do game nights and movie nights. I didn’t know if we would be there for each other during hard times, or whether we’d rely on other friends for that. We’ve had some hard times amongst us already, and it’s been cool to see people rallying for each other. That has probably been my biggest surprise, that being part of this community has helped me settle in a little bit. To feel more at home in Portland.”
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Read the rest of my conversation with Lina here: Making Tiny House Community Work.
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To visit Simply Home Community, meet Lina and her landies, and learn much more about how they created their community, check out their upcoming Tiny House Community Tour on May 3rd! You can also learn more about Lina by visiting Niche Consulting. Stay tuned to my mailing list for more interviews about how our homes affect our lives, or check out my Life in a Tiny House Ebook for more inspiring stories of people building their homes to support the lives they want to live.