City Manager Tom Barwin suggested I write a letter to the City Commissioners as they review the zoning and codes to allow for tiny houses in Sarasota. This is the letter I’ve drafted so far. I welcome constructive criticism before I send it in and read it at next Monday’s commission meeting.
Dear Commissioners and planners for the city of Sarasota,
For a long time, Sarasota has relied on three key industries as top performers in expanding our economy. These are tourism, building, and real estate. Each has its merits, but they also present a variety of challenges. Tourism builds upon our beautiful beaches, wonderful climate, are creative people, as well as our Rich history of circus, art, and innovation, yet it also creates a great burden on our infrastructure. Building taps into our creativity, our strong work ethic, and our desire to see beauty in our surroundings, yet it also puts a terrible strain on our environment through pollution and waste.
Real estate gives us the ability to make a lot of money off of selling a basic need, yet it all too often results in housing bubbles, foreclosures, and homelessness.
The challenge we have in Sarasota, in America, and the rest of the world, is realizing that by playing the game of real estate, by putting profit over people, we inadvertently hold everyone who doesn’t want to play that game hostage to it as well. When thinking about a community, it is more about the people than it is about the dollars that flow through it. Sarasota has a variety of people with many numbers of skills, and they should all be considered when we are considering this game of Real Estate and housing because this game has very dangerous consequences.
This recent wave of housing development in downtown Sarasota, producing over a thousand different units from 300,000$ to well over a million, there are very few they have been added for people who need less than 1,000 square feet and get modestly paid for providing services that none of us wants to live without. The majority of new housing built in Sarasota is well over the 2,500 square-foot average for a single-family home, up from 1,700 in the sixties and 1,000 in the fifties. For most people this is too much room. Most of us don’t need 2,500 square feet, and we don’t want 2,500 square feet.
We want something small, something precious to us, where we can store our most treasured belongings, have a place to feel secure, and then go out and live in the world. We would rather not spend the majority of our paychecks on space that we are not using and the footprint we would rather not make. Yet while developers seek to make as much profit as they can by building the biggest houses that they can, the rest of us are forced to pay outrageous prices without anyone considering what we really want and what we really need.
There is a movement in America and around the world of people building and developing tiny houses. While it might make some people laugh, there are currently four television shows based upon the movement, a plethora of websites, and tiny house villages popping up around the country to meet people’s needs and create community. Though many who are comfortable and used to living in 2,500 square feet or more cannot even consider living in a tiny house, there are people who are finding great happiness and expanding their quality of life, one of the things for which Sarasota is known.
To build on the quality of life that we have here, and ensure that people of all incomes can afford to live here in a place that meets their needs and provides them the life they are building, I ask that you consider making tiny houses legal in Sarasota so that we can not only have affordable housing that is designed around the people who will live in it, but so that we can also build on our creativity and develop a new industry which meets the needs not only of the people in Sarasota, but for the people in the rest of America and around the world.
In the tiny house movement, incredible things are being accomplished in the avenues of energy efficiency, open source architecture, space saving devices, and a number of other innovations. Developing tiny house villages gives us the opportunity to also use the land around the houses for community gardens, permaculture design, and ways of living in greater harmony with the environment. Tiny houses also have a much smaller carbon footprint than average American homes, and for those who wish to believe in the threat of climate change, it is a wise choice to open up these opportunities for more sustainable ways of living. For those who don’t believe that climate change is a real phenomenon, tiny houses still provide a great many benefits to the environment and the community. The majority of people who opt for tiny house living are very creative and can contribute greatly to building a stronger digital and artistic economy in Sarasota, something much more sustainable than our traditional reliance on the Real Estate market to keep food on our tables.
In planning for housing for the people of Sarasota, we need to consider housing for all types of people. We need to build on our virtues of creativity and high quality of life. As you are planning the next steps in Sarasota’s development, please give us avenues to develop tiny houses and meet the needs of all the people in Sarasota, not just the wealthy and extravagant.