Category Archives: Idaho

05/12 Planning Behind: How to bring a native housing form back from extinction

Opportunity Village in Eugene, OR

Opportunity Village in Eugene, OR

In her best-selling book Biomimicry, Janine M. Benyus describes the human quest to learn from nature. We want to employ the qualities of spider silk, gecko feet and sharkskin in new materials or the structural efficiency of paper wasp nests and honeycombs in our designs. But it was the chapter about natural systems that got me thinking about community stability.

Benyus compares local economies to an ecosystem, where species evolve to fill niches vital to the sustainability of a grassland, forest or tide pool. Relationships evolve over time to create health and stability. As long as there is balance, the system endures.

And a mix of housing types and price points is essential to a community’s ecosystem.

Pick up any record of human civilization and you’ll read about a basic ‘species’ of housing: the boarding house or inn. This let folks new to town or short on cash establish a temporary base from which they could hold down a job, receive mail and have a measure of privacy. Some were artists, writers or musicians, while others joined the local labor force. Whatever the name — residential hotel, rooming house or YMCA — these simple, affordable spaces filled an important niche…

Now that the boarding house has become an endangered species, those at the lowest income levels are forced to double up with others or live in substandard housing. They share dilapidated trailers in badly managed ‘parks’ or find run-down rentals in locations that people with higher incomes wouldn’t go near. Otherwise, they’re homeless.

While the resulting building codes and federal housing policies set a high — and costly — bar for those trying to build new subsidized housing units, existing low-cost housing is often plagued by code violations like mold, inoperable plumbing and heating systems and other life-safety hazards. Tenants can complain and risk eviction or retaliation, or they can endure and try to find something better. No complaints, no code enforcement.

The supreme irony is that many poor people continue to live in overcrowded and unsafe conditions that housing and finance policies sought to correct in the first place.

Boise’s construction boom includes new downtown residential developments, with rents ranging from $900 for a studio to $1,300 for a two-bedroom unit. If you can find one, older rentals start at $650. An individual working full time at Idaho’s minimum hourly wage of $7.25 can afford no more than $377 in rent. It’s basic math, not rocket science….

But most planning and building ordinances still reflect the thinking that eliminated lower-cost options and led to gentrification in the first place. The trick is to preserve safety and aesthetics, while supporting efforts to keep costs of construction in check and still cover the costs of service delivery and infrastructure. Idaho planners and policy makers are grappling with these issues, and they want to get it right.

It will require effort on the part of policymakers, housing developers and even private citizens to cultivate heirloom housing types like the boarding house, although the new versions will feature shared wifi, espresso machines and bike-friendly, super-efficient green building amenities. Think of it as co-housing for the working poor and the creative class that make cities more stable and interesting.

Read more –

03/08 Tiny Houses In Boise Still Face One Big Problem

Tiny house built by Shaun Wheeler, to be completed by the home's new owner, Shawna Embry

Tiny house built by Shaun Wheeler, to be completed by the home’s new owner, Shawna Embry

The house Shaun Wheeler is standing in can only be described as tiny. It’s 310 square feet, half the size of a semi trailer. He designed and built it from the ground up. When it’s done, it’ll have everything a normal house has, in a fraction of the space.

Wheeler owns Wheeler Homes, and builds tiny houses. He used to build typical homes, even mansions in Sun Valley. But after going to college, his mentality about housing changed.

“My college degree was in environmental studies and sustainability, so I started looking at construction differently, the way we build houses differently and couldn’t really justify doing the same old status quo,” Wheeler says.

The tiny house he is currently building is a rich midnight blue with cedar. Wheeler says although it may be simple, it’s got everything you need in a house, and more.

“We are standing in the kitchen. The whole time we’re in the kitchen and the bathroom, we’re underneath a loft. This loft is the master bedroom.”

But there’s just one problem: Once Wheeler finishes this tiny house, there is nowhere to legally park it.

The city of Boise doesn’t allow builders to put a house on a foundation unless it’s bigger than a few hundred square feet. A work-around is to build them on trailers.

But since trailers are on wheels, they fall under the jurisdiction of the Idaho Transportation Department, like an RV.

However, people aren’t really supposed to live in an RV year-round.

Read more –

Idaho Division of Building Safety Acknowledges Tiny Houses

Idaho Division of Building Safety Pamphlet

Idaho Division of Building Safety Pamphlet

Idaho is the first state to discuss RV’s, manufactured, modular and tiny houses in the same reference document.

In the pamphlet linked below, the state Division of Building discusses different types of houses and includes a nod to tiny!

How does all of this apply to Tiny Houses? If you are planning to build or purchase a
dwelling of any kind, including a “tiny house”, it must comply with the requirements of one of the classifications listed above.

For a “tiny house” classified as an RV, you may have challenges in obtaining planning and zoning approval. If the building is wider than 8½ feet it cannot be an RV but it can be a modular building. Contact the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association about compliance with the appropriate ANSI standards, 703.620.6003.

Use of the modular classification will require approvals and inspections similar
to those required for site built dwellings. Use of the modular building option is
intended for manufacturers but may be used by anyone.

Both site built and modular buildings must comply with minimum area requirements of the building code. The smallest a house can be and still meet these requirements is about 150 square feet of floor area.

The HUD manufactured home standard is intended for manufacturing facilities and is very difficult to apply to one time construction.

Full pamphlet:

Building code map

Handy map of the US. Just click on your state (in the link, not on the picture) to see which building codes are in effect:

International Code Council Map

International Code Council map

Park Model RV Regulations, State-by-State

The RVIA has provided a table showing regulations by state for park model RVs

What is a park model? 

Below is a description from the RVIA:

On July 1, 2012, RVIA created a new membership category for manufacturers of park model RVs (PMRVs). A park model RV (also known as a recreational park trailer) is a trailer-type RV that is designed to provide temporary accommodation for recreation, camping or seasonal use. PMRVs are built on a single chassis, mounted on wheels and have a gross trailer area not exceeding 400 square feet in the set -up mode. They are certified by their manufacturers as complying with the ANSI A119.5 standard for recreational park trailers.

PMRVs are most often used in recreational vehicle campgrounds. They may be owned by the campground and rented to guests, or they may be brought in and used exclusively by their owners on a site rented or leased from the campground. They can also be placed by their owners on private property. These RVs are used for recreational purposes only. They are not meant to be permanently affixed to the property, they do not improve property values in any way, and they are neither designed nor intended by their manufacturers to be used as permanent residences.

Two different types of park model RVs are offered. One type is less than 8′ 6″ in width and is designed for frequent travel on the highways while the other and more popular type is wider than 8′ 6″ (usually 12′ in width), and must be transported with special movement permit. The 8′ 6″ unit typically is expandable when it reaches its destination utilizing slide-outs or tip-outs. The wider units, being less mobile, are usually sited in a resort or RV park location for an extended term, typically several years. Park model RVs are titled as vehicles by the various states. This is because PMRVs are built on permanent chassis such that they can be and are moved either within a campground or between campgrounds.

Free Online Zoning Codes

Here are two sources of online codes:

  • Municodes from the Nation’s leading legal publisher.
  • The American Legal Publishing Company provides a free online library of state and municipal codes for most locations. Click on the map to go to the library and chose your state and city. Then search or scroll for descriptions of minimum lot sizes, setback rules, etc.

    American Legal Publishing Compay online library

    American Legal Publshing Company online library

    Information is available for all states except these 13: AL, CO, ID, KS, LA, MO, MS, ND, NV, UT, VT, WA, WY.