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August 10, 2018

Tiny home team balances green tech and affordability

Dany Skelling likes to think big about small spaces. “It all started when I built this shed in my backyard for the lawnmower,” he explains. “Pretty soon, all I could think about was how to maximize the use of space. My passion kicked in, and that’s when I began to look very carefully at the way we — as consumers — live.”

A CMHC Affordable Housing Consultant, Dany immediately took note when a tiny home eco-village proposal crossed his desk.

Vagabond Tiny Homes had approached the Town of Okotoks, just south of Calgary, with a vision to create one of the first tiny home eco-villages in Canada. Thomas Grenier, Vagabond’s proprietor, proposed 30 to 35 permanent homes, ranging from 380-600 square feet in size. It would be a mix of affordable and market rental homes alongside short-term vacation rentals. The units would be arranged to create shared outdoor all-season living rooms — a true community of tiny homes.

Thomas and the Town of Okotoks are working together to potentially secure funding through CMHC’s Affordable Housing Innovation Fund. This is where Dany comes in.

“Because we are trying something completely new with this fund, it’s about having the right players at the table,” he says. Dany is always looking for people who see challenges as an opportunity for creative problem solving.

“That’s a big part of the Innovation Fund,” he explains, “embracing risks and rewarding good creative ideas that push boundaries.”

Thomas is upbeat about the plan’s prospects. “This project is for the community as well as tenants,” he emphasizes. “We’re looking forward to engaging the people of Okotoks and bringing them along on the development process.”

Thomas sees an eco-village as one solution to the growing housing crisis across the country. But he’s clear that living in smaller spaces does not mean living in sparse conditions.

“Compact living is becoming a social movement,” says Thomas. “We take what works from around the world and apply it to a Canadian context.”

Vagabond has created a custom-built mobile unit to demonstrate the tiny home concept at tradeshows and open houses. The creative design and state-of-the-art technology puts the amenities of a larger home into a compact, ultra-efficient package.

Together with the Town of Okotoks and CMHC, Thomas is working toward a clear goal. “We are trying to figure out how to build this community with as much green tech as possible, while staying economically viable. We want this model to be easily replicated.”

In his backyard, Dany has since turned the lawnmower shed into a creative studio space. No stranger to experimentation, Dany’s excited to work with Thomas and Okotoks to try something completely new in affordable housing. “What this all comes down to is how to hit medium-density development out of the park using a truly innovative, mixed-market approach.”

The Affordable Housing Innovation Fund is a National Housing Strategy initiative. It helps with the construction of new affordable housing and with the repair and renewal of existing affordable housing.