Last fall, some colleagues of mine at the Madison Public Library put together a housing resource fair to extend on themes discussed in Matthew Desmond’s book, Evicted, which was the Go Big Read book for the UW-Madison and wider Madison community. One of the coolest things they highlighted during the resource fair was a Tiny House that parked outside of the library for tours and Q&A, so when I saw the announcement about a whole festival dedicated to Tiny Houses at the Lawrence Public Library, I knew I needed to learn more.

Today Melissa shares info about the festival, and tips for those looking to do similar programming around these trendy little residences–they bring up a lot of good questions on everything from zoning laws to sustainability.

The tiny house parked outside of the library. Image provided by Melissa Fisher Isaacs.

Library as Incubator Project (LAIP): What was the impetus for launching the Tiny House Festival?

Melissa Fisher Isaacs (MFI): Affordable housing has become an increasingly pressing issue in our community: Over 50% of renters in Douglas County, Kansas, spend more than 30% of their income on housing, as do around one-fourth of homeowners.  At the same time, Lawrence is a progressive community; many residents care deeply about sustainability and community involvement. Ours is also a quirky, creative community that supports thinking outside of the box. Particularly with the Summer Reading theme being “Build a Better World,” a tiny house festival seemed like a perfect vehicle for a meaningful discussion about issues that are important to our community. And indeed, the response from the community was enthusiastic.

LAIP: What sort of programs/activities were part of the Tiny House Festival? 

MFI: The Tiny House Festival featured the opportunity to tour a tiny house (here is a video of the house) built by the Veterans Community Project, a Kansas City-based nonprofit that is creating a tiny house community for homeless veterans. We also hosted a panel discussion around the issues of affordable housing, homelessness, sustainability, and how tiny houses can fit into those issues. Also, two planners from our city planning department laid out what’s currently legal, what’s not, and offered tips for getting involved in shaping code so that it reflects our community’s values. 

LAIP: Can you give us some tips for other libraries looking to put together something similar with their communities?

MFI: The biggest challenge I had in planning this event was finding someone who was willing and able to bring a tiny house–I’m deeply grateful to Kevin Jamison of the Veterans Community Project for his unhesitating willingness to share his house with us. Start planning early, and cast your net wide! Also, the participation from our city’s planning department was really important, because many of the audience questions revolved around what’s doable, what’s not, and how to navigate the building permit process. 

LAIP: Are there plans for future festivals like this one, on the topic of Tiny Houses or something different?

MFI: We’ve got other festival ideas in the hopper, but nothing currently in the works! 

Check out this video about the tiny house community for homeless veterans, developed by the Veterans Community Project:

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