Category Archives: Massachusetts

12/17 Ma Casita seeks to provide tiny houses as affordable housing in Lawrence, MA

Conceptual model for  tiny steel houses on a Lawrence city lot.

Conceptual model for tiny steel houses on a Lawrence city lot.

In a city where a big chunk of the population, half, spends a big chunk of its income, half, on housing, the chance to own a tiny house with a tiny mortgage generates big interest.

It excites Franallen Acosta, 23, a 6-foot 6-inch Lawrence man who ducks when entering many homes but is keen to build wee houses in this densely settled city of nearly 80,000 souls.

The 2012 Lawrence High graduate wants homeownership for more residents. He has faced housing uncertainty himself; has friends who have battled homelessness; and his mother has for 20 years spent the lion’s share of her pay on rent, likely in the neighborhood of $200,000.

“And she’ll never get that back,” he said.

Acosta also wants to create jobs in his home city, where, according to state labor statistics, unemployment stood at 5.3 percent in October, a major improvement from the 10 percent level of two years ago but still almost twice the state’s 2.7 percent rate in October.

Acosta’s response to unemployment and expensive yet limited housing in Lawrence is founding Mi Casita. Translated from Spanish it means “My Little House.” It’s a small step along a challenging, steep path…

Lawrence’ Director of Business and Economic Development Abel Vargas says the city is working with Acosta on clearly defining tiny houses in ordinance language and identifying a property that meets his needs.

Acosta has filed ordinance language, which upon review will need City Council approval. He has filed survey results, asking residents about the need and their desire for tiny houses.

“He has taken the appropriate steps,” Vargas said. “His idea is promising…”

The next major steps will be to find financial backers — people with capital to support the initiative — and to line-up buyers.

To that end Acosta invited a tiny homes builder to showcase the product at an LCW outside event.

He has also has identified 30 people who are interested in living the homes.

It’s unusual for tiny houses to take root in a post-industrial, urban center such as Lawrence where 11,000 people live per square mile compared to a statewide average of about 840 people per square mile.

Acosta isn’t deterred. The city is sprinkled with vacant lots and the need for housing is here.

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11/13 Tiny house movement lands in Lawrence, Massachusetts

tiny house with purple trimStanding in a landlocked lot on Saratoga Street, Franallen Acosta gestured at a landscape of overgrown brush, trees, and patchy grass and imagined the possibilities.

“This could fit five, six houses,” Acosta said with outstretched arms. That is, five or six really small houses. Like, tiny houses.

Acosta is trying to bring the tiny-house movement, a phenomenon more often associated with millennials in hipster-rich communities, to this aging mill city and its largely immigrant, low-income population. With backing from a nearby business accelerator program, he is plotting a test home of just 300 square feet for a city-owned parcel. And he’s persuaded Lawrence officials to buy into the concept so far, agreeing to consider zoning changes to permit houses that are too small under current rules.

“We have these fears of gentrification, these fears of not being able to sustain ourselves in our communities, and these are things that worry me,” Acosta said. “I feel like the only way out of this is if this project comes to fruition.”

A lanky 23-year-old who quit his job selling solar panels to become an entrepreneur, Acosta is still in the early stages with this project. He estimated the costs of building one of his houses will range between $25,000 and $50,000. It will be on wheels so it can be rolled onto underused lots in Lawrence. Ideally it would be off the grid — using solar panels, battery-powered light bulbs, a rainwater collection system and composting toilet.

A city of 80,000 squeezed into 7 square miles, Lawrence has a varied stock of largely older, densely packed homes. The city has built few new homes in recent years, despite a sustained influx of residents.

Though home prices here are lower than elsewhere in the region, so are incomes. The median household income is about $35,000 a year, compared with almost $68,000 statewide. A city study found that nearly 40 percent of Lawrence residents spent more than half their income on housing.

Acosta estimates monthly mortgage payments for his tiny house could be as low as $600, about half the rent of an average apartment in Lawrence.

Numbers like this have Lawrence officials interested. They are working with him by identifying tax-delinquent properties that can be seized and used to host Acosta’s first batch of tiny homes.

“I would be interested to see how it will play out in an urban environment like ours,” Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera said. “This is not going to solve our housing needs, but shame on us if we don’t test something that could work.”

Lawrence is also open to modifying its building and zoning codes to allow Acosta to build his tiny houses, said Abel Vargas, the city’s director of economic development. But he cautioned that to win city backing, Acosta needs to make sure there really is a long-term interest by people to live in such small spaces, Vargas said.

Acosta recently won a $2,000 grant for the tiny house endeavor from nonprofit Entrepreneurship for All (EforAll), an accelerator program in Lowell for socially conscious initiatives to help cities struggling with high unemployment and poverty. The goal for his project, which Acosta named Mi Casita, Spanish for my tiny house, is to build a “village” of about five houses in Lawrence, and then expand it to other communities in the Merrimack Valley.

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06/22 Tiny houses are coming to Nantucket. Could the rest of Massachusetts be next?

Isaiah Stover in front of his tiny house

At Nantucket’s annual Town Meeting in April, Isaiah Stover proposed an amendment to the island’s zoning bylaws that would essentially allow for dwellings under 500 square feet in several districts.

Nantucket has an affordable-housing crisis, and Isaiah Stover has a solution: “tiny houses.”

But it’s illegal to live in one there — for now.

At Nantucket’s annual Town Meeting in April, he proposed an amendment to the island’s zoning bylaws that would essentially allow for dwellings under 500 square feet in several districts. It passed and will go before the state attorney general for approval. If the go-ahead is given as expected, Stover, 40, may finally be permitted to complete and occupy the home he began building more than two years ago, and, according to state officials, Nantucket will officially be the first community in Massachusetts to approve zoning that specifically allows tiny houses.

“It’s heartbreaking to think that people can’t pursue their version of the American dream here,” said Stover, the owner and founder of Nantucket Tiny Houses. “They may love the community, but they can’t afford to buy a home here.”

Rents during the winter average about $2,000 per month for a two-bedroom, Stover said, and during the summer, that jumps to about $4,000-plus. What about buying? The median household income on Nantucket is $86,529, but the median sales price is about $1.2 million (

Affordable housing has long been an issue on the island, in particular during the summer months, when seasonal workers flood the shores, forcing renters living here year round to scramble to find new or temporary accommodations for the summer as landlords raise the rent. An eight- or nine-month lease is not uncommon here. It’s all part of the annual “Nantucket shuffle.” Those islanders end up on couches or cramming into already overfilled homes and apartments, often illegally.

“It’s common to bounce around,” Stover said. “I’ve done it for more than 20 years. I never lived in one place for more than one year, but then two years ago, I was trying to find a place and just couldn’t.” He related the story of a young man and his cousin who were living in their pickup, and said it’s not unheard of for people to live in sheds. “People are taking desperate measures just to try to stay here,” he said…

When Stover could not find an affordable place to rent, he began building a tiny house — first on leased land and then on a half-acre he purchased, living in it as he worked on it. Then a neighbor complained, and Santamaria paid him a visit. Finding no sources of electricity or heat, he asked Stover to move out.

Some tiny homes violate state health and housing codes and the International Building Code, Santamaria said. “There are minimum height requirements of seven-foot ceilings in a sleeping room, which is a problem if you’re using a loft.” He also cites the state housing code’s requirement of a minimum of 150 square feet of floor space for each occupant. A 220-square-foot home occupied by a couple would be considered overcrowded — and illegal.

Health Board requirements include running water and sewer hookups. “Tiny houses have to be connected to on-site septic or sewer and a well or town water department. They can’t just use holding tanks,” Santamaria said, noting that composting toilets are a possibility but require a variance from the Nantucket Board of Health. The houses must also be wired for electricity, either through a town connection or solar panels….

Vera Struck in front of her tiny house

Vera Struck will take her Silver Bullet home on tour this summer as a model for sustainable living in a small space.

Elsewhere in the state, tiny-house enthusiasts face similar obstacles, but some are forging ahead regardless, living in them in secret and waiting with trepidation for a neighbor to complain. That’s not the case with Vera Struck, 66, the founder of TerraBlu Teams, a sustainable-education nonprofit, and a member of the American Tiny House Association. She raised money online to build her Silver Bullet home on wheels, constructing it for just under $19,000, including donated and recycled materials. She approached Newbury town officials about building it because she didn’t want to do it in secret.

Struck’s motivation is twofold: affordable homes and sustainability.

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05/05 Owner of Hadley tiny house has to 24 hours to move out

Sarah Hasting's tiny house

Sarah Hasting’s tiny house. Link for video at bottom of page.

During the Hadley Town Meeting on Thursday, residents voted down an amendment to current zoning bylaws that would have allowed Sarah Hastings’ to keep a one-room house on East Street.

Hastings’ told 22News that 102 supported the bylaw and 215 were against it.

The house is less than 200 square feet, and sits on the property of another larger home. The town asked Hastings to create a new bylaw that would allow a small cottage. She explained it to 22News minutes before it was rejected.

“It just adds the category of detached apartments,” Hastings said. “So a single family owner occupied home, can either have an interior accessory apartment or a detached backyard cottage.”

Back in January, the town told Hastings if her proposal failed, she’d have to move out by May 6th. Now she has 24 hours to move out. No word yet what she plans to do.

Watch the video –

05/03 Community support needed Thursday to support tiny house in Hadley, MA

inside Sarah Hasting's tiny house

inside Sarah Hasting’s tiny house

Sarah Hastings is hoping Hadley Town Meeting voters will amend the town’s accessory apartments bylaw to include backyard cottages. If the bylaw passes, she and her tiny house could stay in town.

Voters will consider the proposal at the 7 p.m. meeting Thursday at Hopkins Academy.

Hastings has been living in her 190-square-foot house on an East Street parcel owned by Ron and Donna Adams since last year.

The Mount Holyoke College graduate built the home while a student in architecture studies.

The structure blends into the landscape behind the Adams’ house and overlooks acres of farmland.

In November, Building Inspector Timothy Neyhart issued violation notices to both Hastings and the Adamses. While allowing accessory apartments inside, the town’s current zoning laws do not allow separate dwelling units on a single lot.

In January, the Zoning Board of Appeals delayed enforcement of the order, giving Hastings the chance to bring a bylaw to Town Meeting.

Hastings said the bylaw amendment is not just for her, but would provide the opportunity for others to build similar structures. “It’s a great opportunity,” she said “to use it for affordable housing.”

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04/24 Tiny homes may help big problem on Nantucket

Emily Seawall-Butler, 32, with her 8-by-18-foot tiny home that's about 90 percent complete. She said the home has cost her about $25,000. Photo courtesy of Emily Seawall-Butler

Emily Seawall-Butler, 32, with her 8-by-18-foot tiny home that’s about 90 percent complete. She said the home has cost her about $25,000. Photo courtesy of Emily Seawall-Butler

People on Nantucket are no strangers to moving their homes. For hundreds of years, homeowners have moved buildings like chess pieces, strategically from one spot to another on the 48-square mile island. Now, construction manager Isaiah Stover aims to add a new page to this history.

His idea? Tiny, movable houses.

Stover submitted a citizen’s petition for the annual spring town meeting warrant to allow small dwellings built on movable trailers. He petitioned to allow tiny houses in most residential zoning districts on the island. These houses would be subject to all building, zoning and regulatory requirements of their districts, but would be built on trailers to move easily around the island. The title of the tiny home would remain with the owner of the building, not with the owner of the land where it is parked.

The warrant article passed and is now set for review by Attorney General Maura Healey. Stover said the article is the first of its kind in the state, although other towns, like Hadley, are not far behind.

This is the second time Stover brought the article to town meeting, and he said he is working on another proposal that would allow for villages of tiny homes.

Mobile homes aren’t allowed on the island, town Health Director Roberto Santamaria said, and this new rule will still prohibit them.

Nantucket is full of tiny whaling cottages, and the only difference, Stover said, is that his tiny homes are going to have a few tires. Modifications can be made to hide the wheels, or perhaps, store them in a tiny basement, he said with a laugh. If the measure is approved by Healey, Stover says he hopes these tiny houses can be a new weapon to fight the affordable housing crisis that has plagued his hometown for years.

It’s no secret that Nantucket has an affordable housing problem. Year-rounders who don’t own a home often get lost in the “Nantucket shuffle,” where they must find other accommodations for the summer when property owners can collect much higher rents.

This leaves people like Kathleen FitzPatrick, a 30-year-old with a 9-year-old son, or Stover, who has a pair of dogs, in a bind to find affordable housing.

“They can rent to a single person with no pets, no kids,” Stover said. “They don’t even need to look at you.”

“It’s almost a rite of passage,” said FitzPatrick, who is in the process of moving for the eighth time in two years.

And for most, with the median price hovering around $1.2 million, owning a home on Nantucket isn’t an option.

But tiny houses, which can be built for as little as $20,000, present a new option.

These homes on wheels have significant hurdles; they have to meet the state’s comprehensive building code, which requires 120 square feet of habitable space per person, Santamaria said.

The island’s cottages can be about the same size as some of the tiny houses, but the design of some tiny homes makes it tough to pass building codes.

“The main issue is using the loft area for a bedroom,” town Planning Director Andrew Vorce said, because most don’t meet the height restrictions of the building code.

The houses also must get approval from the local zoning board and historic district commission.

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04/06 Asking for tiny house forgiveness

Sarah Hastings in her Tiny house in Hadley, MA - photo by Carol Lollis

Sarah Hastings in her Tiny house in Hadley, MA – photo by Carol Lollis

A proposal to create a bylaw legalizing tiny houses will go before [Hadley, MA] Town Meeting May 5 with no recommendation from the Planning Board following a vote Tuesday evening.

The proposed legislation would allow for the type of 190-square-foot “backyard cottage” Sarah Hastings has already built on the East Street property of Ron and Donna Adams.

During the meeting, Hastings fielded questions from board members about greywater and unit size. Two Hadley residents also spoke to the legislation — one for and one against.

Board member Joseph Zgrodnik cast the only vote against the bylaw, saying Hastings had not followed the necessary steps to get it approved.

“You’re asking not for permission,” Zgrodnik said. “You’re asking for forgiveness, it seems.”

Read more ––proposal-goes-to-Hadley-Town-Meeting-with-no-recommendation-from-Planning-Board-1366262

04/02 Good news! Nantucket, MA approves tiny houses on wheels on private property

Voters, including town moderator Sarah Alger, in yellow, register for Town Meeting Saturday morning outside the Nantucket High School auditorium.

Voters, including town moderator Sarah Alger, in yellow, register for Town Meeting Saturday morning outside the Nantucket High School auditorium. Photo by Nicole Harnishfeger.

…Voters approved by voice vote Isaiah Stover’s citizen’s petition to allow “tiny houses” in most residential zoning districts on the island. The new dwellings will be subject to all applicable building, zoning and regulatory requirements of their zoning districts, but built on trailers for ease of movement around the island. Title of the structure will also remain with the owner of the building, not the land on which it rests.

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02/12 Framingham, MA issues ‘stop work’ order for tiny house

Notice left by building inspector Tuesday, ordering that Seth and Christine Terramane halt work on their tiny house build.

Notice left by building inspector Tuesday, ordering that Seth and Christine Terramane halt work on their tiny house build.

The town has issued a “stop work” order against a couple building a tiny, 200-square-foot house on wheels behind a Framingham church.

In a post on Instagram, Seth and Christine Terramane shared a picture of the bright orange order a Framingham building inspector left Tuesday, ordering they halt work on the project. The couple, who were featured in a Daily News story last Sunday about the growing trend of tiny houses, say they plan to find a way around the setback.

An inspector from Building Commissioner Michael Tusino’s office cited “work without a permit/zoning” as the reason for the stop work order.

“First of all they didn’t apply for a building permit so I don’t know exactly what they’re doing,” Tusino said Friday. “Based on your article, they’re building a tiny house. We’re looking at it like, ‘you’re building a structure on a property, stop working, come tell us what you’re doing.’”

Seth Terramane, who is building the home himself on a trailer, said Friday, “We had already called and made sure our build was legitimate beforehand. I don’t entirely know where this is coming from.”

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01/11 Proud to pave the way for tiny houses

Sarah Hastings, Hadley, Massachusetts tiny house resident

Sarah Hastings, Hadley, Massachusetts tiny house resident

Sarah Hastings has until May 5 to convince residents her tiny house, a 190-square-foot home she built herself, should be allowed to remain on East Street. Otherwise, she has to leave the next day.

That was the unanimous ruling by the Zoning Board of Appeals on Monday. It upheld violation notices given to Hastings and her landlords, Ron and Donna Adams, in November for being out of compliance, but delayed enforcement until May 6, the day after Town Meeting. That gives Hastings time to craft a zoning bylaw amendment that would allow tiny houses, which she said are not currently covered in the law.

Hastings has until Feb. 17 to submit a warrant article for Town Meeting, which she said is in process already.

If the Zoning Board had not delayed enforcement, Hastings and her landlords would each face fines of more than $12,000.

“This was a favorable outcome,” Hastings said after the hearing…

Opinions at the 90-minute hearing were mixed, with some saying she should not be allowed because she did not receive the proper permits.

“You come in and put something down and now you want the town to accept it,” said Newton Lane resident Brian Glazier. “Everyone else in town has to get permits to build…”

Hastings said she realized that if she wanted to fight for tiny houses to be allowed, she could not wait for “someone else” to pave the way for her. “I’m proud to be that ‘someone else,’ ” she said.

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