Over the past few years, the United States has been experiencing a housing crisis. This crisis is not so much to do with a lack of housing; rather it is an affordability crisis. The median price of a home has shot up to over $400,000, while mortgage and rent rates are rising steeply at the same time. Furthermore, instead of rebuilding or revamping existing neighborhoods, housing is increasingly being built in areas at the urban fringe. This practice is unsustainable as it contributes to sprawl and homes are being built in environmentally-vulnerable zones. In light of the current circumstances, people are on the look for alternative means of housing.
These can come in various forms and include tiny houses, earth shelters, converted shipping containers and even abandoned buildings like factories or hospitals. Similar to conventional homes, alternative homes do offer spaces for cooking, eating, bathing and sleeping. They also are often more environmentally friendly than traditional housing, as they often require less energy and may even utilize pre-existing structures and/or less new construction and materials.
The history of alternative homes
Alternative homes gained popularity between World War I and The Great Depression. In 1933, during The Great Depression, over 15 million workers (approximately 25% of America’s workforce at the time) were unemployed. Given these circumstances, people had to look for alternative homes that would drastically cut costs. In order to do this, people set up shantytowns on the outskirts of cities and created shelters using salvaged materials such as cardboard, lumber, tar paper and tin. President Herbert Hoover was in office at the time, and his government failed to provide citizens with appropriate socio-economic support. Out of spite, these shantytowns that were established for alternative housing became known as Hoovervilles.
Nowadays, alternative housing is shifting from a last-resort option to one that people may opt for given increasing housing costs, among other factors. Social media is also playing a part in this gain in popularity, whereby people are drawn to fads based on content that they are exposed to. In fact, 17.4% of alternative house owners purchased their homes in 2020. Most of these are either tiny homes or recreational vehicle (RV) homes. Given current trends, the tiny house market is expected to grow to $3.57 billion between 2021 and 2026.
The main reasons why people are buying alternative homes
Compared to traditional homes, the lower prices of alternative homes are one of the main reasons that they are gaining public interest. The cost of alternative homes typically ranges between $70,000 to $90,000. However, depending on the type of property, this may vary. For example, tiny homes are often one of the more affordable options and usually range between $30,000 to $60,000. On the other hand, vehicle homes like converted vans or RVs range between $20,000 to $130,000.
Nevertheless, 60.8% of alternative homeowners are able to purchase these homes using their savings. This makes alternative housing a more financially secure option for those in search of buying a home. Conversely, purchasing a conventional house often requires financing, which can lead to excessive debt if not paid off quickly.
Besides lower housing- and rent-related expenses, there are several other reasons why people are turning to alternative housing. According to Rocket Homes’ research, some of the reasons people have switched to alternative homes are to have more space, to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, to further appreciate nature, for increased privacy and to live off-grid.
The challenges of living in alternative homes
Though the majority of alternative homeowners are happy living in their housing alternatives, they do face multiple challenges. These are often a result of alternative homes being located in more rural areas.
One of the biggest functional challenges that alternative homeowners face is high gas prices. This is with regard to fueling cars or generators for homes that are completely off-grid. Increased distances from resources also pose a problem. Stores for basic resources like food and home supplies are often further away. Additionally, as there are limited options in more rural regions to obtain necessary home goods, businesses often take advantage of this and raise their prices as demands can be high.
While functional challenges are inevitable regardless of where you live, people living in alternative homes also face increased emotional challenges when compared to people living in more urban settings. In fact, in a study conducted by Rocket Homes, 26.8% of alternative homeowners expressed that long distances from family and friends are the main emotional challenge they face. This was followed by 12.6% of homeowners experiencing loneliness. For those that live with their family in an alternative home, lack of personal space is an issue, as these alternative living spaces are often smaller than typical homes.
Should you opt for an alternative home?
Well, that depends. On the upside, alternative homes are often more environmentally friendly, allow for close connections with nature and are cheaper to purchase. On the downside, there are several challenges, particularly emotional ones, that come with living in alternative homes. These are often due to the rural locations of these homes, which can put financial and emotional strain on people and their relationships with family and friends. Every individual thinking about purchasing an alternative home should be aware of the pros and cons of alternative living. Based on their personal circumstances, they can make the appropriate choice accordingly.
Images via Unsplash and Adobe Stock