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During the Great Depression, the District had a Hooverville. Now, thanks to At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange, the District could have “Orangevilles.” In legislation introduced today, Orange proposes the District build a 1,000 “tiny houses” for millennials and lower-income residents.
Orange’s fleet of tiny houses would be sold for a maximum of $50,000 to District residents who are between 18 to 33 years old or who make a minimum or living wage. That age requirement almost certainly violates fair housing laws (LL reached out to Orange’s office for clarification), but put that aside for now to consider this exciting new proposal.
Like his water park legislation, Orange’s “Tiny Housing Initiative” bill is incredibly specific. That means LL has a good sense of what a community of Orange-backed tiny houses would look like.
Orange wants the tiny houses to be at least 600 square feet, each with a kitchen, a bedroom, a bathroom, and utilities. They won’t be on wheels, so Orange tasks the Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity Courtney Snowden with figuring out where to put them.
Orange wants 125 tiny houses in each of the District’s eight wards, setting up neighborhood battles that would be anything but tiny. Even Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie was dismayed to find himself living next to one of the houses.
LL can’t wait for the residents of, say, Chevy Chase to find out the city is moving in 125 lower-income workers and twentysomethings next door. Heck, tiny house people can’t even get along with each other.
This is initially a politically baffling project for Orange, who is up for re-election next year, to take on. But the key to Orange’s support for the tiny houses may lie not with who would live in them, but who would build them.
Orange, possibly the Council’s most ardent supporter for small businesses registered in the District’s troubled Certified Business Enterprise program, wants small business certification to be a requirement for contractors applying to build the houses. That makes the houses a big potential payday for Orange’s backers in the business community. It’s telling that the legislation hands responsibility for the tiny houses to DMGEO, which oversees CBE certifications, and not to the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, which normally handles housing.
As exciting as the future tiny house wars would be, this bill almost certainly won’t pass. If it does, though, Orange may have to make a tough decision. That’s because one of the most obvious locations for a huge collection of tiny houses would be on the RFK Stadium site that Orange already has reserved for his water park.
Update, 5 p.m.: Are tiny houses the first issue of next year’s at-large race? In a statement to LL, Orange challenger David Garber implies that the tiny houses are “gimmicky.”
“Unlike Mr. Orange, when I’m on the Council, my priority will be to identify and support non-gimmicky affordable housing solutions that don’t break the law and start with resident input and equitable opportunity for all District residents,” Garber says in his statement.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery