Amid a housing crisis, tiny homes catch on big time in B.C.

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      What happens when a real-estate agent and a construction worker get together in the midst of Vancouver’s housing crisis? In the case of Shannon and Brian Persse, the answer came in an environmentally conscious, downsizing movement that’s been sweeping North America in recent years: tiny houses. Or, more specifically, mobile detached homes generally less than 500 square feet in size that may be used as primary residences, rental suites, office spaces, and more.

      A Vancouver native, Shannon says her Irish-born husband, a general contractor, was “gobsmacked” by Vancouver’s real-estate prices when he moved to the city in 2013. (He’s likely even more taken aback now.) So when they spotted a tiny house in Point Roberts, Washington, where Shannon’s brother owns a vacation home, the couple were instantly intrigued. “We thought it was the cutest thing we’d ever seen,” she recalls by phone.

      After conducting some research, the pair got to work on their first miniature house in 2013: a 210-square-foot abode that Shannon’s brother would use as a guesthouse at his south-of-the-border property. Soon, they began fielding inquiries from others. “We started off building one and then another one and another one,” Shannon explains, “and then we started getting a bit of traction. So it was something that we sort of decided we were going to do full-time.”

      The pair launched Mint Tiny House Company in 2014, and four years later have produced over 100 homes. The Delta-based business builds four “editions” of tiny houses, ranging from 200 to just under 400 square feet, though Shannon says the Loft model, available from 24 to 36 feet in length, has proven most popular with clients, many of whom hail from B.C. and Ontario. Boasting a living room with a 10-foot-high ceiling, a fully outfitted kitchen, a bathroom, and three separate sleeping areas, the house—the biggest of Mint’s offerings—helps make downsizing a little easier. Prices start at $50,500. “A lot of the larger ones kind of help people transition from, say, a 3,000-square-foot house down to 380 square feet,” says Shannon.

      James Alfred

      Built to be certified as RVs so that they may be parked wherever bylaws allow it, all Mint structures come equipped with modern conveniences and features like attractive wood panelling, soft-closing doors and drawers, and laminate flooring. Many of Mint’s customers, who range from young couples and families to retirees looking to simplify their living situations, are choosing green elements to reduce their ecological footprints even further. “A lot of our clients are going more off the grid,” Shannon shares. “We do install a lot of composting toilets, rainwater-collection systems, and some homes are going solar.”

      Although diminutive houses have their pros—they’re customizable and movable, and use significantly less energy and produce less waste than traditional homes—municipal bylaws and general unfamiliarity with the structures have prevented them from becoming a viable mainstream housing option in many urban centres, notes Shannon. In Vancouver, residents are forbidden from living in such “RVs”—one of a handful of bylaws that local advocacy groups such as the B.C. Tiny House Collective have been working to overturn—leading many to place them in more rural areas or recreational parks.

      For the Persses, who hope to move into a tiny house in the near future (the pair had constructed their own, but then decided to sell it to a client who wanted one right away), the homes are worth embracing. And not only because they offer one solution for tackling Vancouver’s housing problem: “You can take them anywhere, right?” says Shannon. “And that’s sort of what tugs at our heartstrings a little bit: you’re not stuck in one location. Oftentimes, you have to set down roots…whereas with this, you can design a house that works for you—or you and your significant other or whomever—and you can take it anywhere.”

      At the B.C. Home + Garden Show, which happens at B.C. Place from next Wednesday to Sunday (February 21 to 25), Vancouverites will be able to see and walk through three of Mint’s small houses, each of which will be fully furnished. They’ll also be able to ask the Persses any lingering questions they have about small-scale living. It’s all part of Mint’s plan to get more people talking about and into tiny homes. “It’s hard to kind of picture ‘Could I actually live in that?’ ” says Shannon. “So this kind of gives you the chance to see that and find out that they’re not actually as small as you think they are.”

      Follow Lucy Lau on Twitter @lucylau.