It Takes a Community to Build a Tiny House

By Denise L. Norman ~ Fall 2012 (V6I3)

How big is big enough? When it comes to housing, Blood Ties Four Directions believes the answer is a lot smaller than you might think.

Blood Ties Four Directions Centre is a Whitehorse-based non-profit organization supporting people who have HIV/ AIDS or hepatitis C, or are at risk. Their clients particularly struggle when it comes to finding suitable and affordable housing in the territory. It’s that struggle that became the catalyst behind the organization’s latest project.

Heather Ashthorn works for Blood Ties as a housing navigator, and she is the driver behind the recently completed tiny house in downtown Whitehorse. The unique 221-square-foot structure was named the Steve Cardiff House after the Yukon MLA and affordable-housing advocate who died in 2011. This namesake house offers transitional, supportive housing for Blood Ties clients.

“Success would be defined by the client living there--time to retreat and look after themselves, or to be supported as they undergo treatment for hepatitis C. The treatment is really hard. It makes a person sick for a really long time,” Ashthorn explains. While many landlords avoid unemployed tenants with a criminal history or those living with addictions, Ashthorn says Blood Ties has sought hard-to-house tenants in hopes the Steve Cardiff House can be the next roof over their heads.

With a subtle brown welcome mat at the doorstep, the Steve Cardiff House is undeniably inviting. An array of windows throughout allows natural light inside the petite space, which features a kitchen, bathroom, living room, porch, and lofted sleeping area. To make the most of the miniature quarters, the couch in the living area was designed with hideaway drawers and the kitchen cabinets swivel out for easier access when opened.

The house will accommodate one Blood Ties client at a time for a minimum of three months and a maximum of one year, during which Ashthorn will work with the client on a long-term housing plan.

The house looks tiny compared to the other buildings next to it on Hawkins Street, and it certainly isn’t an ordinary looking dwelling. While these small structures are not currently the norm, tiny houses are nothing new. They’ve always been part of the Yukon landscape. At the turn of the century they were built for similar reasons as today.

Robert Service describes some of these early residences and their inhabitants in his poems “The Rhyme of the Remittance Man” and “The Men That Don't Fit In.” The poetry discusses men who chose to live on the edge of society in a small house or cabin they could build themselves and heat with a small supply of wood. Service himself lived in a house with an area of less than 300 square feet.

Carcross and Whitehorse were once filled with tiny residences. The Arne Ormen cabin in Carcross is one example. It’s hard to imagine Arnulf (Arne) Ormen, a tall Scandinavian woodcutter who built it around the 1960s, once lived in the teeny home, but it did come with conveniences--the cabin is so small he could light the fire in his woodstove without getting out of bed.

In Shipyards Park, in Whitehorse, there are still remnants of a past community of tiny houses. The park--as well as the area now occupied by Rotary Peace Park--was once full of squatters’ cabins.

Over the last few years, housing prices have been on the rise in the Yukon, making it difficult for working families and individuals to afford a home or find reasonable rental accommodations. Blood Ties realized their clients’ inability to find safe and affordable housing was a problem, so they reached out to the business community for help to create a solution.

“That's been my favourite part of the project:” Ashthorn says, “seeing how many people have been willing to be gathered up, to share ideas, to work through differing opinions, and to just get ’er done.”

Organizations and individuals representing virtually all sectors of the construction community joined Blood Ties in the project. Kobayashi + Zedda Architects, Narrow Gauge Contracting Ltd., and the Yukon Research Centre’s Cold Climate Innovation program provided the core expertise and funding, while numerous others donated everything from plumbing fixtures and bedding, to windows and countertops, and the labour to install it all.

As for what's next, that depends on whom you ask. “I'd like to see the idea of the tiny house multiplied,” says Antonio Zedda, of Kobayashi + Zedda Architects. “It would be really neat if we could put a few more of these on the same property.”

Ashthorn, however, believes land is one of the biggest obstacles to overcome. “We need land downtown. Right now, that is a priority. But what's at the top of my mind is a really giant thank you. It's just been an extraordinary show of support and interest and community spirit.”

For more information on the Steve Cardiff House, go to www.bloodties.ca. Y


Harper Street Publishing
Box 141
Carcross, Yukon Y0B 1B0

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