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Students develop plan for tiny homes in Lewiston, Idaho

Rendering of a tiny homes community.
Seniors in landscape architecture and interior design researched tiny homes communities and drafted a model ordinance that would allow and regulate them in Lewiston.

A Washington State University student project might someday lead to more affordable housing options for residents in Lewiston, Idaho.

Seniors in landscape architecture and interior design researched tiny homes communities and drafted a model ordinance that would allow and regulate them in Lewiston. They recently presented their ideas to city planners and community members.

“Tiny homes provide options for the unhoused and housing insecure people within the community,” said Jesus Gomez, a senior in landscape architecture who worked on the project. “We took it as a possibility of coming together as a class and trying to develop new ways and solutions to provide ideas in a time when housing is a crisis.”

Lewiston, like many communities throughout the West, struggles with providing affordable housing for the community. While there are not clear numbers, the community in 2019 identified more than 160 people who were homeless, and many others struggle with affording their rent and other necessities, says Steve Austin, clinical assistant professor in the School of Design and Construction.

Tiny homes describe a range of housing options that are smaller than traditionally sized residential units. They generally range from 80 to 200 square feet in size. In recent years, villages of tiny homes have been developed, especially in response for the need for people transitioning out of homelessness or housing insecurity. Some people also have invested in tiny homes as a way to downsize and simplify living.

The ten students in the class drafted a model ordinance that would enable the creation of tiny home villages in the city. As part of the project, they studied tiny home communities in the western U.S., took virtual tours of Lewiston to understand its land use patterns, and met with city planners and a local developer over Zoom.

Closeup of Steve Austin
Steve Austin

“Tiny home availability can be one solution among many others in a coordinated approach to affordability and availability,” Austin said. “This student work complements the many positive actions the community is already taking to address these issues.”

The ordinance includes planning, design, and legal recommendations, such as that tiny villages be located near public transit routes to reduce car parking requirements and that they have trees planted to keep homes cool.

The city’s planning commission will now review the proposed ordinance.

After graduation, Gomez plans to continue his studies, attending University of Idaho for a master’s degree in architecture. The project gave him valuable experience in the legal and community aspects of land-use planning and developing ordinances.
“This was a whole new experience for me — this project opened up new perspectives and new ways of looking at the discipline,” he said.

At the same time, he learned about the value of developing designs that are for the benefit of the community.

“We design with nature – that gives us somewhere to start to examine how we can help humanity but also the local ecosystems that we inhabit,” he said. “I want to be able to design with a purpose.”

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