Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Demand for housing in Washington DC is going through the roof. Over a thousand people move into the city every month, driving up the cost of housing and they're turning the nation's capital into a construction zone. Tower cranes piercing the sky above the city streets have become so common they're just part of the background. But as fast as the cranes have gone up, demand for housing is rising even faster. Making DC among the most expensive places to live in the United States. And one innovation whose time has come shows just why the demand for housing is far from being met. I kinda got driven down the tiny house road because of affordability, simplicity, sustainability and then mobility. Tiny houses are very cheap to build, you can build one of these for ten thousand dollars you can build one for thirty, forty, fifty thousand dollars, but they definitely come in far beneath the cost of a regular home especially in a city like DC. They're very sustainable, they take very little energy to heat or cool. So having a space that I could hook up to solar that I could, you know, catch rain water and use for a simple shower and sink was very very appealing to me. They are mobile because many of them are built on wheels but the reason they're often built on wheels is because it then escapes a lot of the kind of coding requirements which these homes would violate not because they're unsafe places to live, but because the minimum size of a room you know must be 120 square feet and if these homes are 120 square feet altogether you then have obvious issues. This is not a tiny house, it's the Office of Zoning, the Zoning Comission, the Zoning Administrator, the Board of Zoning Adjustment and the Office of Planning which, along with the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs implements, adjudicates and enforces 34 chapters and 600 pages of regulations governing property use and building requirements int he nation's capital. The director of the city's Office of Planning, Ellen McCarthy, described the problem with allowing tiny houses in the city: and so the zoning authorities have allowed a few experiments in affordable housing like this apartment made entirely from shipping containers. But the city is constrained by a zoning ordinance that was drawn up in 1958 that's 56 years of cultural change and building innovations, like tiny houses, that the code wasn't designed to address. and for small builders like Jay Austin, getting a special exemption from the zoning authorities could cost tens of thousands of dollars and years of time with no guarantee of success. The proposed changes to zoning rewrite won't effect what we're doing at all, we are, tiny homes on wheels are still a little bit further out probably many years out, of decades out. It's totally legal to buy one of these and to park it somewhere. And really it only becomes illegal once you step inside and say 'this is my home.' We could leave these houses on the lot I imagine for 20 years and there wouldn't be any issue with it but if we declared these are full time residences then there, you know, would be a little bit more, little bit more trouble perhaps. The laws that keep Jay Austin from living in his own home have their genesis in New York City's zoning resolution of 1916. For the first time in history, committees of urban planners began to reshape an entire American city. They split up skyscrapers to provide more sunlight on the streets below. Industrial factories were separated from residential property. Immigrant communities were kept apart from neighborhoods of the elite. And when the supreme court ruled these laws didn't violate property rights, zoning quickly spread to every major city in America. Every city, that is, except for one. Houston for me is an experiment. It's an experiment in overt capitalism. And therefore very much at home in Texas, there is a kind of libertarian way of thinking here. It's much more alive in a way, much more organic, than a typical zoned city that is more restricted by these old fashioned measures that no longer are viable. If you live in an unzoned city, you have to develop a dialogue or negotiation. And that of course we have seen in our country is not easy to come by. I have architect friends that have to operate in places like Berkeley where the zoning board is sort of a group of aestheticians without training say 'that's no good, this is good, this is Berkeley, this is not.' And this sort of, you know, it's silliness but has enormous economic consequences is operating in those places. While here, you can almost get away with anything. Anything, like a house clad entirely in beer cans. In Houston a few simple laws govern lot sizes and set backs from the street. There's even a new historical preservation ordinance. But for the most part, developments are regulated by private covenants and deed restrictions. And without city codes, committees or planners to regulate land use, all sorts of creative expression are possible. When architects began to build homes out of corrugated metal, a cheap material associated with poverty and trailer parks, no one had the authority to stop them. As it turned out not only were tin houses economical, they also kept homes cool by reflecting sunlight during Houston's sweltering summers. Today tin houses are cherished as a unique Houston innovation. Whether it's a tin house in Houston or a McMansion in McAllen, homes in the sprawling state of Texas will always be cheaper than the densely populated northeast. But compared to the rest of the sun belt where cities are zoned and the land is plentiful, unregulated Houston is still the most affordable large city in America. I totally agree that regulation is about preventing bad things from happening. Houston's success in creating affordable housing for the middle class is one reason why the city is disparaged by the one group whose job it makes obsolete. Urban planners like Harriet Tregoning, formerly of the Washington DC Office of Planning. I hate to make Houston the whipping boy, right? Oh go ahead. You know, that's a place that doesn't have zoning, it doesn't' have regulation and it's not exactly the full flower of urbanism. Two hours down the gulf coast from Houston is Victoria. A city that hasn't had zoning since it was founded 190 years ago. And the most unusual thing about Victoria is that it's not very unusual at all. I don't notice anything greatly different about Victoria and the look that Victoria portrays and the look that they have in San Antonio, Austin or Houston. So, property rights in Texas are sacred, you can do what you want to do with your property and I think most of the people here in Victoria want to protect that right. The city's growth and land use is based more on economics and the will of the owner rather than some quasi-governmental body that you have to ask permission from. East of town was a rendering plant where they took dead animals and processed them. The people that were in favor of zoning would say 'well what if there's a rendering plant next to your house?' Economics dictate that you're not going to put a rendering plant next to a residential subdivision economics dictates that you're gonna build a shopping center on a major thoroughfare. It's worked very well in Victoria for a number of years and I trust we'll continue to do so. Now it's true if you look hard enough in Victoria or Houston you can find the odd high rise poking out of a low density neighborhood and sometimes economics dictates that you'll have to eat your butterscotch dilly bar next to the bail bondsman. But tolerating a little disharmony, a dash of kitsch and the occasional strip club in a strip mall along the Texas gulf coast is a small down payment on the right to be the architect of your own life. Because if you're Jay Austin, you can build the home of your dreams, you just can't live there. For now his tiny house is a part time residence and a full time showpiece to present to the public in the hopes of changing a zoning committe that hasn't updated a zoning code in 56 years.