Sprout Tiny Homes is out to show the real estate industry that smaller homes can be a solution to housing affordability.

  • Homes don't have to be tiny to allow affordability and new living opportunities: They just have to be smaller.
  • Throughout the western mountain towns, people spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing, which is well above the norm.
  • Sprout Tiny Homes is developing a PUD (Planned Unit Development) approved community in Salida, Colorado.

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I have a friend who is going to live in a horse trailer this summer; she’ll hold up there while working at the equestrian center that’s part of the Alder Creek Adventure Center, an extravagant and very much appreciated neighborhood amenity.

Did I mention we live in Truckee, California? Truckee is a resort town north of Lake Tahoe. It’s a world-class ski town, and it’s quite popular with Bay Area weekenders.

While my friend’s living arrangements sound romantic in the modern vagabond sense of lifestyle that’s become so trendy these days (#vanlife), she’d much rather find shelter in an actual home.

But again, this is Truckee, California, and that’d be almost impossible here.

A recent Sierra Sun article cited a regional housing study that found, “… 76 percent of Lake Tahoe and Truckee area residents spend more than a one-third of their income on rent, and 26 percent spend more than half of their income on rent.”

Even our mayor has to rent.

It’s similar elsewhere around the mountain West, where residents of resort towns like mine are suffering greatly under the stress of second-home ownership; median home prices have ballooned well beyond the reach of most locals.

When I say “locals,” I don’t necessarily mean the $12 per hour lifty or entry-level raft guide. Those jobs, with metric tons of due respect, were never meant to support homeownership. Available rentals? Certainly.

However, teachers, police, small-business owners, nurses and the people that own the rafting companies should be able to find homes to buy.

Median home prices have scaled well beyond the reach of most locals.

I put some blame on real estate agents: You can do more.

I understand, for example, that second-home buyers flush with Bay Area home equity make much more attractive clients — it’s also smart of them to invest that money.

However, if an industry markets itself on a platform of ethics, a singular focus on the customer’s best interests and the American dream, isn’t it fair to assume it should have a notable role in making communities more livable?

I can’t name one agent here in Truckee with a voice in the debate … and I pay close attention.

But I digress.

Unfortunately, Truckee doesn’t have local leaders as creative as those in Aspen, Colorado, arguably the most posh and financially out-of-reach mountain town of them all (keep at it, Jackson — you’re not far behind).

Aspen Skiing Co (Skico), the company that owns the town’s namesake resort, pushed forward an initiative to establish a tiny home community for the purpose of providing living options for people like my horse trailer-dwelling friend.

The Aspen Times reported in January that the company bought six trailer coaches from Sprout Tiny Homes, hooked them up to local sewer and electrical at a local campground and rented them to a group of Aspen employees for the season.

Skico is now evaluating how to make the project a year-round initiative to create even more tiny living options for its employees.

People with hedge fund money typically don’t like to be eye-level with those who don’t have hedge fund money, especially in places like Aspen.

Thankfully, those residents and local municipal leaders are bucking the trend of shortsightedness and realizing the living struggles of those who have less aren’t rooted in economics, but in local housing policy.

Developers are at fault, too: New homes are built specifically to appeal to second-home buyers, often boasting elevators, 1,000-square-feet equipment rooms and multiple master bedrooms.

Thankfully, Sprout Tiny Homes is growing quickly.

The company recently announced its partnership with WeeCasa, a tiny home hotel resort community located in Lyons, Colorado, another mountain town facing housing issues.

Sprout has 11 homes in the WeeCasa resort and is collaborating with them to capture more land for the purpose of offering similar living and vacation destinations.

Sprout itself acquired 19 acres in Salida, Colorado, to create several more long-term leasing opportunities along the Arkansas River.

The press release stated that PUD (Planned Unit Development) approved improvements on the land will “… conform with community quality of life benchmarks and that achieve a high level of environmental sensitivity, energy efficiency, aesthetics, high-quality development and other community goals.”

The development, called River View at Cleora, will include 140 long-term rentals and 60 short-term rentals. The City of Salida is annexing the property.

Sprout’s homes aren’t diminutive, realty-television-ready oddities: The company uses traditional materials and building standards to make comfortable, sensible living spaces, many of which are placed on permanent foundations. They just happen to be small.

I am quite sensitive to the dire housing issues looming in the West, because I also work among the dirtbags, ski school coaches, bartenders and biologists.

These are often highly educated people who chose a deliberate life over one considered more traditional.

Most of my fellow outdoor guides and mountain locals aren’t seeking three beds and two baths, breakfast nooks or bonus rooms. Instead, they seek a clean, relatively up-to-date place to be when not showing customers how to Leave No Trace or stay on a paddleboard. A spot to park the Subaru would be nice, too.

Smaller — not necessarily tiny — home communities like those being established by Sprout could very well be the practical answer to affordability concerns across the country.

But all forms of new thinking need champions.

For the small home movement to succeed, it needs unequivocal buy-in from the real estate community, from those armed with state-granted licenses and sales expertise.

Sure, doing so may mean a few lower commissions and working with a customer who considers Chacos to be their good shoes, but it would be worth it.

How about it, agents of the West? Care to get on board? I promise you’ll get paid, and you might even learn how to belay a lead climber.

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