Video by Sara Lopez, photo in video by Sara Lopez
by Alex Arevalo, Deenah Kafeel, Sara Lopez, and Lainey Jackson
Austin is always on the edge of latest trends; food connoisseurs can be sure of new restaurant openings on a weekly basis; different sounds in music are originated and popularized in the Live Music Capital of the World; even shows and films gain inspiration from the city’s fresh and urban locales. Now, a particularly small trend in real estate has made a big impact on Austin-ites.
Residents have been opting to drastically downsize their living spaces and move into miniature versions of conventional homes. The practice of this counterculture has gained enough traction across the nation to be considered its own social movement. The success of the Tiny House Movement hinges on the idea that homeowners aim to simplify their lives and strive for greater efficiency in their living spaces.
One of the people responsible for bringing this idea to life in a uniquely Austin way is Michael de Ovando. For almost 40 years, de Ovando has used his background in architecture and design to create livable spaces for clients all over the world. Starting out building smaller homes for low-income communities in Mexico, de Ovando stumbled upon a real estate niche that had yet to be tapped into in the city.
Photos by Sara Lopez
“People now are wanting to live simply, more minimalistic,” de Ovando said. “They’re wanting to get rid of their big houses, so I see this as a way of the future. People want to buy just a piece of property, have a small house with very low maintenance, low utility fees.”
His company, Container Living Solutions, offers homes that differs in both practice and design. These compact living spaces are made entirely from steel shipping containers, either 20 or 40 feet in length, just like those you see aboard ships and freight trains. Unlike more common tiny homes made from lumber, or mobile homes made from aluminum, de Ovando’s homes offer certain environmental and disaster prevention benefits by virtue of their building material.
Info Graphic by Deenah Kafeel
“Everything is used out of steel; by not using lumber, we don’t have to cut down trees,” de Ovando explained. “This product is a completely green product, so there is a big environmental benefit.”
The structural integrity the steel yields also appeals to potential container homeowners. The risk of damage from floods and fires alike is drastically reduced in this type of home. In the worst case scenario following a natural disaster, de Ovando explained container home owners are at the very least left with the outer shell of the home, the steel container.
— Saf-T-Box, LP (@saf_t_box) November 27, 2016
The potential for a smaller carbon footprint and the security against devastating home damage are only two of the draws associated with this type of modular living. Economic benefits offered by tiny houses attract the main demographics of downsizers; millennials and baby boomers. By foregoing mortgages on houses, consumers are able to keep themselves from going into severe debt, or are able to retain more of their retirement savings. “The young people and the older people, not middle-aged, are the main demographics,” de Ovando said. “Young people tend to live in simple places where they don’t have to worry about big payments. Older people are very happy with low maintenance, minimalistic retirement options.”
According to The Tiny Life, a website resource on tiny living, 55% of people who live in these spaces have more savings than the average American, with an estimated median of $10, 972 in their bank accounts. Additionally, 89% of tiny homeowners have less credit card debt than the average American, with 65% of those homeowners having no credit card debt at all.
Shipping Container homes people! Mark my words are on the come up and are gonna be huge. Everything makes sense about them
— Miah (@miah_55) February 1, 2018
Capitalizing on these incentives, contractors in the Austin area continue to develop areas to cater to tiny home dwellers. A new tiny home community, called Constellation ATX, is slated to open this spring on Old Manchaca Road, south of West Slaughter Lane. Featuring almost 100 lots of land, this project is expected to house nearly 500 tiny homes and open on March 1.
“Austin is weird,” de Ovando says. “Austin is a great city and I think this place is perfect for tiny homes. The trend is certainly on the upward.”
Check out Austin’s up and coming tiny home communities here:
Info Graphic by Deenah Kafeel