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Low Cost Alternatives for Affordable Housing

Updated on November 12, 2017

Thinking Outside the Box

In recent times, affordable housing has become difficult to find. The rule of thumb used to be that 25% to 30% of your income should be spent on housing-- whether rent or a mortgage. But due to inflation and stagnant wages, people are less able to find decent, affordable housing. In cities like Miami, renters can expect to give up nearly 50% of their wages to housing. And in places like San Francisco, it is even worse with 77% of income going toward rent in 2017.

It's no wonder that many millenials are still living with parents.

This is something that can, and certainly should, be addressed in political arenas, however, most people who need housing, need it now. They cannot wait for the wheels of the political machine to turn.

So, what does one do?

Sometimes taking matters into one's own hands to find a sensible solution requires thinking outside the box. And if you are accustomed to traditional ways of doing things-- doing things the way everyone has always said they are supposed to be done-- you may have to go way outside the box.

Taking Matters Into Your Own Hands

If you are considering something seemingly drastic to provide yourself with shelter, you are not alone. However crazy the idea, you are likely to find whole communities of people who have had the same idea. But, having made the leap, many of them find the change liberating. Also, the others who have gone before can offer a lot of advice. Here are a few things that others are doing to bridge the housing gap and live a lifestyle that is financially sustainable for them.


Van Living

Van Dwelling: Not Just For Living Down By The River

At first glance, the idea of living in a van may sound depressing. The thought of being homeless is frightening to many people, but true van dwellers do not see themselves as homeless. Their vans are their homes. Others see their rent-free housing as a means to an end. Author Ken Ilgunas not long ago made headlines with his book, Walden on Wheels, about his experience living in a van to reduce living costs so that he could put his energies into paying off the student loans that got him through college. He later lived this rent-free lifestyle while completing a master's degree to avoid going into debt.

A quick Youtube search will yield thousands of results. You can find all types of people from young people to retirees, couples, singles and even a few families living this sort of inexpensive lifestyle. It seems that the majority of van dwellers enjoy a nomadic lifestyle that allows them to travel as they please seeing all sorts of places, visiting friends in distant cities and even camping. A van allows them to be a little more stealthy than an RV so that they can park their homes on the street, in a parking lot or at a park without arousing too much suspicion.

For those who enjoy a good hack, van dwellers have them for everything from getting internet access to finding bathroom facilities, to locating safe places to park.


Living in an RV: The Surprising Lifestyle Choice of Young Urban Professionals

One inexpensive housing alternative being embraced by a surprising number of urban professionals is RV living. Single women, men and even couples have taken up residence in recreational vehicles. For this set, an RV can be mobile housing for leading a nomadic lifestyle much like van dwellers or-- because many more of the amenities of home can be found in an RV-- it is simply another option for people who wish to simplify their lives. For those urban professionals, it is an affordable living arrangement in the city where they work and live. In big cities from San Francisco to New York rent can be astronomical. Purchasing a used RV and finding a safe place to park it makes more sense than sacrificing one-half to three-quarters of their paycheck.

RVs come in a variety of styles to suit every taste, from the souped-up vans offered by Airstream, to the class C campers-- which have always looked to me like a turtle carrying his home on his back-- to the much larger 5th wheel campers.


Tiny House Nation

While tiny houses are generally built on wheels as a way to skirt housing codes that would otherwise prohibit such a small dwelling, most tiny houses are parked in one spot and largely kept stationary. They typically offer all of the amenities of a stick-built home in a much smaller package and at a much smaller price. For the majority of tiny home enthusiasts, the tiny house is a way to have the home of their dreams while leading the lifestyle of their dreams. A smaller size means less space to heat and cool, fewer utilities to pay for, less “stuff” to keep track of, less home to clean and maintain and just an all-around simpler living arrangement. When you live mortgage free, you can spend less time earning money and devote more time to the things that are important to you.

Many tiny house dwellers were very involved in the creation and building of their homes which means those homes were customized to their tastes. Tiny homes can also be purchased partially or fully finished. There are even stalwart souls out there who purchase storage sheds or small cabins and turn them into tiny homes. Whatever your budget and taste, tiny houses provide a variety of options.


Could you do it?

Could you see yourself living in one of these less traditional types of housing?

See results

Shared Living

Shared living arrangements have been picking up some traction lately for people who want to reduce expenses and live more economically. One article talks about young professionals in San Francisco who purchase larger homes and mansions and share them with a group of people. Everyone has a nice home in the city they wish to live and expenses are reduced to a manageable portion by virtue of spreading the costs among residents. Such arrangements obviously require level-headed, responsible people who are willing to share not just costs but house work and repairs.

Other shared living arrangements can include multi-generational housing. Some people may think that it sounds kind of sad to live with your parents as an adult, but an intelligent person can see that it could simply be good common sense. When an elderly parent lives with an adult child, the two parties to help one another. Not only are financial burdens eased by the sharing of expenses, but household chores and child care are also shared. The elderly person can be part of a bustling, lively household rather than living alone. The elderly person can also have help with household chores they can no longer manage while the younger adult might have someone to help with childcare. Such an arrangement can work out very well for everyone.

Save Money, Live Better

Housing is the largest chunk of any budget as it includes not only rent, but utilities, repairs, maintenance and up keep. If you can find a simpler, less expensive way to live, you can spend less time killing yourself just to make ends meet and have more time and money to put into the things that are really important to you. Making that leap is likely to require some out-of-the-box thinking. You may find yourself considering possibilities that others would find crazy. One of the keys to combating fear is to ask yourself how crazy it is to keep paying for a lifestyle that doesn't give you time for a life. But, another way to combat doubt, is to recognize that whatever choice you make, there is probably already a community of people who have done it. The real choice you have to make is deciding what makes the most sense for you.

Alternative Housing Resources That The Author of This Article Swears By

Microshelters: 59 Creative Cabins, Tiny Houses, Tree Houses, and Other Small Structures
Microshelters: 59 Creative Cabins, Tiny Houses, Tree Houses, and Other Small Structures

This book is by Deek Diedricksen. If Dee Williams is the God Mother of the tiny house movement, Deek is the weird uncle. Some of the shelters are fanciful rather than practical, but there are a few practical tiny houses as well. If you have any interest in tiny houses at all, this is a great place to get ideas.


Books The Author of This Article Strongly Endorses

The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir
The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir

If Jay Shaffer is the father of the modern tiny house movement, then there is no question that Dee Williams is the God Mother. She has been an outspoken proponent of the tiny house movement for years, having lived in her own tiny house for over a decade now. I had been thinking about building a tiny house, but it wasn't until I picked up her book that I absolutely knew it would happen.



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