SA Affordable Housing January - February 2019 // Issue: 74 - Page 23

CONTRIBUTORS Are tiny homes the answer? By Iqbal Hirji, founder of Rural Waste Poverty Alleviation Solutions (RWPA Solutions) P roviding decent homes for people of lower income brackets is a challenge around the world, and one that is increasingly being met with innovation and creativity. In South Africa, however, we still seem determined to limit ourselves in terms of what we call a home, and who gets to have one. Anyone who has visited South Africa is aware of the vast, sprawling informal settlements where homes are cobbled together out of available materials, built on land that has no infrastructure and even less planning. Often little more than single rooms of corrugated iron, these homes are rarely wind and water proof and are also prone to being burnt down in horrifying conflagrations caused by just one tipped over paraffin stove. Sadly, while there is plenty of talk of getting people in these settlements into formal homes the costs involved are often exorbitant and land is considered difficult to find, and as a result these settlements keep growing instead of shrinking. Faced with a lower income housing problem in the US legislators were initially reluctant to legalise what they colloquially refer to as ‘tiny homes’ but as time goes by and the need grows larger, they are forced to acknowledge something housing campaigners have known for ages – these tiny homes are an incredible solution. Tiny homes are smaller than what has traditionally been built as housing and comprise just one room with an attached bathroom and therefore take up less space. As such they are able to fit comfortably onto land that has not been considered for affordable housing before and are closer to work and important amenities. They are also significantly cheaper, easier and quicker to set up and – importantly – are extremely sustainable. Running a small home costs almost nothing. From lower costs on rates and taxes, to fewer heating bills in winter, these well-built, safe, secure, fire, wind and water proof houses are being snapped up around the world – not only by the poor – but by people who see downsizing their lives as a valuable contribution to their wellbeing and towards preserving the environment. In South Africa it is extremely difficult to argue that people should continue living in dangerous informal settlements rather than give them the opportunity to live in well-ordered and well-built, Agrément certified homes, just because we as legislators, builders or economists are still stuck in the past when we think about what a person needs to be comfortable. ‘Tiny homes’ may just be the answer, indeed the solution, we are looking for.