There aren’t many options available for Connecticut residents who’d like to live in smaller homes. That situation should be addressed, according to housing experts who say there’s a significant trend — and need — in that particular real estate domain. They urge developers and zoning laws to get on board with this market and some progress is underway.
Record-Journal reporter Mary Ellen Godin examined the current status of “small housing” and talked with advocates who want to see more of it developed
“There’s a massive trend towards smaller homes and storage unit conversions for both residential and commercial throughout the nation,” said Realtor Alexa Kebalo Hughes, of the Connecticut Realtors Association. She’s already part of that trend, living in a small cabin in Colebrook.
Other experts say look at the demographics. Smaller houses on smaller lots make sense, with almost 70% of households now made up of two or fewer people. Younger people are getting married and having children later in life, meaning they require less space for an extended period of time. People over 55 also often look for smaller homes. Some people would like to have an accessory apartment or other small home on their property as an extra source of income.
These are all good reasons for zoning regulators to consider a different approach, making allowances for new types of housing options.
Godin explored the reasoning behind that trend as well as the roadblocks preventing more small options.
Small homes on small lots are less expensive to build, developers can fit more on a lot and they can create interesting village cluster communities, said Peter Harrison, executive director of Desegregate Connecticut. But zoning laws can present a challenge. “Connecticut is so far behind the ball, we need all kinds of solutions,” he said.
“The choice of what kind of home you want is made by small pools of zoning commissions,” said Harrison. “They want single homes on large lots and that’s not conducive to needs.”
Other experts pointed out that most states lag behind in the small home department.
Carabetta Companies, doing business as North Broad Park LLC, received a special exception from Meriden’s Zoning Board of Appeals for its project on North Broad Street: 12 detached units for lease, including 10 two-bedroom units, each measuring 480 square feet.
Godin writes that Meriden currently doesn't have a formal definition of a tiny house, but those 480-square-foot units “might be considered a tiny house,” according to remarks made by associate City Planner Brian Grubb last year. The developer has dubbed the units “innovative housing.”
Dan Fitzpatrick, president of the Tiny Home Industry, based in California, spoke with Godin. “Slowly but surely, tiny home communities are popping up across the country. A number of communities nationwide are changing their zoning to allow clusters,” he said.
Fitzpatrick made an important distinction about small houses, explaining that some transitional housing projects geared toward the homeless are little more than sheds and that a true home must have a kitchen and bathroom.
Newer tiny homes are more appealing than trailers as the construction is better and there’s less depreciation compared to a trailer or recreational vehicle, said Harrison. He noted that some trailer parks have started to include tiny homes in their projects.
Accessory apartments are another option that towns, and zoning boards, can look at as they seek to increase their affordable housing stock, Godin writes. In 2021, the Connecticut General Assembly passed a law that unified statutes on accessory apartments, making restrictions more reasonable and uniform from town to town.
Progress towards smaller housing options should be encouraged. Smaller homes make sense for many individuals and families. These are generally more economical, more environmentally friendly and more suited to some people’s lifestyle. Housing options should suit a wide range of needs, helping people to not only have their own home, but one that’s also a comfortable fit.