Integrating Tiny Houses into the American Urban Fabric: A Comparative Case Study of Land Use Policy Change in the Carolinas
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Planning, Development, and Preservation
Cliff Ellis, Committee Chair
The concept of the American dream, manifested in the ownership of a detached single family home, remains a driving force in the housing market. Historically, small homes have held a prominent niche in this dream in both urban and rural areas. However, the expansion of restrictive urban land use policies to protect property values, paired with the rapid diminishment of the American middle class, has made homeownership increasingly difficult to achieve. The tiny house movement has emerged as a means to promote small, affordable, and sustainable home ownership. However, the construction of tiny homes, or even the traditional cottage, is illegal in many places throughout the United States. Zoning, land use ordinances, and restrictive covenants swept the country in the early twentieth century, and often prohibit the construction of structures smaller than a certain square footage. The challenge that tiny house proponents face, therefore, is how to change existing urban land use policy to accommodate the legal allowance of tiny and small houses, while retaining good city form.
This dissertation examines how communities are altering land use policy in order to accommodate tiny and small houses. It does so through a mixed methods research design that involves both a comparative case study and visual preference survey. The case study locations of Asheville, North Carolina, and Horry County, South Carolina, are pioneering the way to creating land use policy that will accommodate tiny homes in the southeastern United States. However, each jurisdiction has developed different types of land use initiatives to integrate such homes. The implementation process and perceived success of these various initiatives are explored through archival analysis and interviews with tiny house stakeholders at each community. Since public perceptions greatly influence the resulting built environment, (Nasar 1998) there is a need to investigate the relationship between individuals’ perceptions of tiny house aesthetics and how those perceptions may affect resulting land use policy. In this study, this relationship is explored through the use of a visual preference survey instrument, which examines preferences for various design elements and the several ways in which tiny houses may be integrated into urban areas.
The case study portion of the research culminated in the development of ten themes. Seven of the resulting themes are common to both case site locations, whereas three are site specific. These themes assist in the development of an understanding of the various barriers to tiny house integration, and how and why each case site is crafting specific tiny house polices. The visual preference survey indicated that there are some differences in average preferences for various tiny house visual elements. For example, the analyses revealed a significantly different, and lower, preference for the integration of tiny homes on their own lots among other housing types, and a significantly different, and higher, preference for traditional styles of architecture. However, the results were mixed when analyzing if perceptions of tiny and small homes affect the resulting land use policy.
The research has resulted in several implications for tiny house advocates and planners. These implications have been crafted into five best practice recommendations for the integration of tiny and small houses into communities. Among them, the research has indicated that the primary driver behind tiny house integration is affordability.
Evans, Krista, "Integrating Tiny Houses into the American Urban Fabric: A Comparative Case Study of Land Use Policy Change in the Carolinas" (2017). All Dissertations. 2035.