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Tiny Houses Are a Big Deal

Houses the size of a typical McMansion rec room are welcome in this West Texas town

By Laura Hill on February 17, 2015

Inhabitat Blog via Flickr

When it comes to economic development, Spur, TX, is thinking small. Real small.

The West Texas town has become what is likely the first American municipality to allow “tiny” houses – those under a few hundred feet – to be built and occupied in residential areas. Spur hopes to attract the growing numbers of tiny house enthusiasts, in an unusual effort to keep Spur from becoming yet another rural town that time has passed by.

“Not long ago, a few of us here in town were standing around the back of a pickup truck one summer evening, commiserating about the town and its prospects,” says David Alsbury, a tech entrepreneur who moved to Spur from Los Angeles in 2013, and has been a vigorous advocate for the city and its small-house initiative. 

“We were thinking about ourselves and towns around us, all shrinking and going away. A lot of them have these beautiful cowboy main streets, but they’re still fading, with a lot of empty buildings and for sale signs. They don’t have much of a future unless people think of a new reason to come back to them.”

Tiny-House Fans Are Growing

Alsbury, like others in the group around the pickup truck, had been following the growing tiny house movement that reflects people’s increasing interest in living sustainably, being free from financial strain and paring life down to its essentials. But with the exception of a few progressive cities like Portland or and Seattle, few places smile on the tiny house lifestyle.

“Every city and town in America says you can’t build a house under 1,000 square feet, so you have to hide it in your backyard,” Alsbury says. “But we thought, ‘Hey, we wouldn’t care if they built it here. Small towns are very desirous of having people come back, so why would we make rules that you can’t build a 500-square-foot house?’”

With the support of the mayor and city council, Spur took on the mantle of the first Tiny House Friendly City. It has already attracted several new residents, one who came to Spur and slept in his van while waiting for his new tiny house to arrive from Memphis, another who rolled into town with his house on wheels, and another couple from Los Angeles who are building tiny from scratch. The town has received many more inquiries and bids on empty lots and anticipates a wave of visitors this spring.

The Simple Life in Spur

Spur’s the perfect place for those who want to live more simply, Alsbury says. A nice-size lot in the city can be had for $1,000 or less, and the cost of building a tiny house, depending on size and finishes, runs just $10,000 to $20,000. Local people are supportive, and many have offered to help newcomers build. There are also existing small houses, typical of the 1950s and earlier, and vacant buildings that can be acquired for a song, he says.

“It’s a very peaceful, quiet place, where you can live without a hassle from anyone and may even find you can contribute something,” Alsbury says. “People here get together, work on projects together. You can make an impact in a community this size.”

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