ReasonTV, the visual operation of the prominent libertarian magazine, is out with a video that highlights the challenges faced by the builders of D.C.’s tiny houses, on an alley lot in Stronghold. The houses are compact, energy-efficient, and cheap to build—-in the video, tiny carpenter Jay Austin says they can be constructed for as little as $10,000. That’s a big deal in a city with runaway housing costs. But only if people can actually live in them. The tiny houses are permissible as curiosities and event sites, but can’t, under the city’s zoning laws, serve as residences.
Reason does a good job of summarizing this conundrum, then dives deep into libertarian territory. D.C.’s zoning authorities and Office of Planning directors—-current chief Ellen McCarthy and her predecessor Harriet Tregoning—-star as the big bad guys. Houston, whose lack of zoning restrictions gets routinely lauded by libertarian-leaning urbanists like Edward Glaeser, is the hero (and Tregoning’s “whipping boy”). Take the politics as you will; the video is worth watching for its explanation of the tiny-house dilemma and its provocative arguments in the ongoing debate over how cities like the District should manage their growth:
Update, 3:11 pm. Austin himself has a conflicted reaction to the video. “I don’t know if I can vouch for a lack of zoning whatsoever,” he says, referring to the video’s use of his situation to promote zoning-free Houston. “I think there’s a happy medium.”
But Austin does say that the public fights over the tiny houses—-from neighbor complaints to Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie‘s calibrated skepticism to a recent Office of Planning proposal against alley camping that appears aimed at these houses—-have warmed him to the libertarian perspective. “I would never have identified as libertarian going into it,” he says. “It sort of makes you question, how much is my government helping me?”
Screenshot from the ReasonTV video