There are two sides to every story. In the case of Tiny Victories—a design competition that aimed to bring an affordable housing community to Austin in the form of micro-homes—those sides play equally between visionary thinking and the architectural ingenuity to make it happen.
The competition began when Thomas Boes, chairperson on the DesignVoice Committee of the AIA Austin, was brainstorming affordable housing solutions. “It’s a problem in any city, but especially Austin,” he said. An acquaintance introduced Boes to Alan Graham, president and CEO of charity organization Mobile Loaves & Fishes, who had already raised 12 million dollars to support his vision of moving the chronically homeless off the streets and into community housing. Graham wanted to build dwellings based off the model of “RV living,” ergonomic structures that also fostered a sense of community. “Think KOA campgrounds on steroids,” he said.
Together, Graham and Boes used RV living as a template to draw up Tiny Victories’ submission guidelines. Participants were to design lean, 150-to-200-square-foot shelters that forewent traditional housing elements, such as plumbing, in favor of communal bathrooms and kitchens. “We called them ‘micro shelters’ as opposed to ‘micro homes’ because we didn’t want people to isolate themselves,” explained Boes. The dwellings, they decided, should provide enough space for a single person and utilize passive thermal designs, like strategically placed windows and eaves to provide air flow and shade.
The competition received 55 submissions. The jury selected 17 that fulfilled the criteria, then whittled it down to four winners and a runner up. The strongest designs all included an outdoor component. The Rooftop Hospitality House turned a roof into an upstairs patio, and another boasted a porch so large it was dubbed Porch with a Home. Several designs provided exterior storage as well as well-integrated interior storage. They also eliminated interior walls and closets in order to facilitate better flow. Sixty to 70 of the micro-homes will be built on a 27-acre lot in East Austin as a part of Community First! Villages, which will also provide parking space for 100 RVs.
Tiny Victories garnered substantial community interest. A 10-year-old submitted a design he created on Minecraft software. A local high school also participated, with one of the designs being selected as a finalist. One of the winning designers, Cody Gatlin, will even live in Community First! Villages upon its completion. “People’s immediate reaction to Community First! Villages is ‘I could live here,’” said Boes.
The public’s enthusiasm has helped spur a second Tiny Victories competition for later this year. It also helped overcome the community dissent that proved to be one of the project’s biggest challenges. “Not in my backyard was the community’s first response,” said Graham. By providing customized and carefully thought out structures, and not prefabricated tiny homes available online, Tiny Victories changed public perception on affordable housing’s potential. “Tiny houses, which are viewed as a new thing, aren’t really new,” said Graham. “But we created them as such.” In doing so, Tiny Victories successfully turned the “not in my backyard” project into the backyard that, apparently, everyone wants to live in.