Glenwood Springs man sees big hope for housing crisis in tiny homes
January 16, 2017
Got a new washer/dryer set, stove or other domestic necessity you'd like to donate? Drop Steve Eaton an email at Glenwood Springs High School, and he will ensure it is put to good use not only as an educational tool in his classroom but as a component of a larger project he hopes will help solve one of the greatest issues facing the region.
"My goal is to create a financially sustainable program building affordable tiny houses for teachers," said Eaton, who has worked as the school's design/build teacher for almost two years. "The plans are still taking shape, but we've already received some quality donations, such as skylights and windows, to help us get started — but the more donated materials we receive now, the quicker we can make this happen."
Eaton and more than 20 high school students in his Design/Build II class have already begun initial work on the program's inaugural structure, which he hopes would be completed as soon as possible.
"First and foremost, this is about creating a hands-on, multidisciplinary learning experience for the kids," he said. "It's a perfect program for the Design/Build class — they're learning about electrical, plumbing, structural elements, and so much more. Right now, while the weather is still cold and snowy, we're working indoors to build the house's interior components. Once things warm up, we'll move outside and start building the exterior structure on a trailer donated to us by Alpine Bank."
Although he says the build could take up to two years depending on a number of different factors, Eaton would love to see the program produce a new tiny house every year once it is established.
"From my perspective as a teacher, I think this could be just one way of helping alleviate the housing crisis that educators in this valley are facing," he noted. "With this program we wouldn't be raising taxes or teacher salaries, we wouldn't be reliant on whoever's in the governor's office — and yet we would still be able to help offer an affordable solution for people who want to be able to live and work in this community long-term."
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Eaton pointed out that the starting salary for a teacher in the Roaring Fork School District is $36,050 per year, adding that a quick Zillow.com search will reveal a median home price of about $435,000 in the 81601 ZIP Code.
"It's no surprise that the district has a tough time with turnover," he said. "Teachers come here to work in this amazing place, but many of them don't see a viable future and end up leaving for somewhere less expensive. If we want good teachers to be able to stay and make a life here, they need a decent place to live."
Tiny houses are catching on around the country, fueled in part by an HGTV series, "Tiny House Hunters."
Aspen Skiing Co. is testing tiny homes as part of its employee housing mix, buying six trailer coaches and placing them at the Aspen Basalt Campground in Basalt. Salida is pursuing the concept in a big way, having approved a plan to put up 200 of the units as rentals, and 33 of the homes are being placed in Walsenburg.
An architect by trade who worked professionally in Paris after attending graduate school at the University of Hawaii and University of Kansas, Eaton moved to Glenwood Springs shortly before classes began in fall 2015. He admits that his personal experience with finding housing helped inspire his vision for the program.
"I'll be honest, it was tough at first," he recalled. "All I could find was a basement apartment for $1,100 a month, which turned out to not be affordable for me for very long. I'm now sharing a different place with a retired teacher who understands the issue, so if it wasn't for her I don't think I would still be here."
Eaton is still developing a plan for how the Design/Build tiny houses would be priced and sold to teachers, but mentioned that auctions or payment plans could be potential options. The current house design falls between 250-300 square feet and includes a galley kitchen, queen-sized loft bed, plenty of natural sunlight and even a foldable deck for additional outdoor space.
"Depending on the quality of materials, many self-built tiny houses can go anywhere from $25,000 to $35,000," Eaton noted. "My hope is to utilize donations to reduce that cost even further and have our finished house priced somewhere around $18,000 to $20,000, with that amount going to help fund the next year's build. But, because there is no precedent for this type of school program, we're figuring out many of these details as we go. It's kind of a moving target, so to speak."
He added that the tiny house could also be off-grid or not, depending on the owner's budget.
"The house will be built on a trailer and can be moved anywhere, ready to be plugged into the grid or powered by solar," he said. "I realize that not every teacher out there is going to be interested in this kind of thing, that not everybody would want to live in a tiny house because it's definitely nontraditional. It might not be an endgame solution, but I hope that this program will at least serve as a stepping stone for teachers who truly want to find a way to stay in the valley."