Tiny house summit highlights innovation in home design

Tiny, single-floor houses stood in the south Park Blocks during Build Small Live Large, an educational summit sharing details about small living spaces and their advantages to homeowners and the environment.

Mayor Charlie Hales gave a short speech on Portland’s innovation in green culture and progressive lawmaking at the beginning of the event’s Best of Small Design Slam, a presentation series in which designers showcased their best work.

Keynote speakers included Alan During of the Sightline Institute and Dee Williams of Portland Alternative Dwellings. Panelists spoke throughout Smith Memorial Student Union from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Nov. 6th on topics including affordable housing for the homeless, housing regulations and cluster communities of small homes.

Shawn Wood, a construction-waste specialist at Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, was one of the planners of the first Build Small Live Large conference and was asked to help organize 2015’s event.

The summit provides a common space for designers, policymakers and enthusiasts of tiny houses, according to Wood. He hopes that attendees take away from the event the environmental benefits and flexibility of small houses.

“Building small turns out to be one of the best green-building techniques that you can do,” Wood said.

Two of the main topics that speakers addressed at the event were regional policy and advocacy for small-housing construction and discussion of design challenges of compact homes, according to Wood.

“I forget what the registration was at our last summit, but it was around 350 people and today we sold out at 500, so it was a successful event and we look forward to having another one in the future,” Wood said.

Alan DeLaTorre, a research associate at PSU’s Institute on Aging, was a featured speaker at “Beyond Peter Pan Housing: Emerging Trends in the Region,” one of the summit’s concurrent sessions intended to discuss different facets of compact housing.

DeLaTorre’s talk focused on providing accessible housing spaces for aging populations.

“I was able to share with folks–well, in my research, I found that there’s really this missing component of housing for older adults that’s between about 8 units and 12 units,” DeLaTorre said.

Beyond issues of affordability, a deficit of building regulations on smaller homes like duplexes and town houses contributes to the lack of homes accessible to older adults, he said.

“I’ll be honest, there’s lobbies–large groups who are not interested in seeing new laws enacted because it cuts into profit,” DeLaTorre said.

There are not many organizations that bring discussion of aging into conversations about sustainability, according to DeLaTorre.

“This is the second time that I’ve been involved in the conference,” DeLaTorre said. “And both times, they have invited me to speak with an interest in understanding how aging overlaps with building smaller houses, reducing the [carbon footprint] that we have on the environment.”

During the presentation, DeLaTorre was joined by Charles Rynerson, a research faculty member at PSU’s Population Research Center.

Rynerson’s segment during the talk emphasized changes in household composition over the past decade.

“There’s been a big shift over the past fifty years from pretty large households to a majority of smaller households,” Rynerson said.

Some of the principle factors driving this change include aging and lower fertility rates, according to Rynerson. Portland has population trends that are divergent from much of the rest of the nation, he added.

“In particular, the type of place that we are–we’ve attracted a lot of young people–we also have a big bulge in that older baby-boom population because we were also a very attractive region in the 1970s, when people who are now approaching age 65 were young,” Rynerson said.

Due to challenges like financing, construction of small houses on a large scale is generally uncommon for developers, according to him.

“The small-house movement is kind of more of a grassroots thing, and it has gotten a lot of attention here in Portland. And I think this conference is bringing more attention to it,” Rynerson said.