Micro-Housing Gains Ground in St. John’s Amid Affordable Housing Crunch

Sean Hickey has built 12 tiny homes in Stephenville over the last five years. (Sean Hickey/Facebook)

Tiny homes emerge as a swift, sustainable solution to the city’s growing housing deficit

As the affordable housing crisis deepens in Newfoundland and Labrador, an innovative approach by a Stephenville developer is offering a glimmer of hope. According to CBC News, Sean Hickey is championing the cause of tiny homes — compact, efficiently designed dwellings that promise affordability, sustainability, and quicker construction times.

Since 2018, Hickey and his modest crew have constructed 12 tiny homes in Stephenville without the aid of government grants or subsidies. These residences, standing on Hickey’s land, cater to a diverse demographic, from seniors to young professionals, providing them with an affordable living solution. “It’s a great way for them to start and they can afford to live,” Hickey shared with CBC News, highlighting the economic benefits for those earning around $1,600 to $1,700 monthly.

Hickey’s tiny homes, which range from 192 to just over 700 square feet, offer full amenities on lots 25 feet wide. They come complete with paved driveways, storage, and essential connections to municipal services, making them a viable long-term housing solution. With rental prices as low as $375 per month, Hickey sets a precedent for affordable housing that doesn’t compromise on quality or community integration.

Sean Hickey has built 12 tiny homes in Stephenville over the last five years. (Sean Hickey/Facebook)

The city of St. John’s, recognizing the potential of this housing model, has applied for $18 million in federal funding through the Housing Accelerator Fund, facilitated by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. This initiative, as detailed in a housing needs assessment report, is a timely response to a deficit of up to 1,335 housing units in the city, a figure projected to increase dramatically by 2033.

The municipal strategy also includes the development of backyard suites, adding value and living space to existing properties. Coun. Ron Ellsworth, the city’s head of housing, conveyed to CBC News the city’s anticipation of more applications for tiny home developments once federal funds become available. “Additional units in your home, that can happen fairly quickly,” Ellsworth stated, emphasizing the swift nature of such projects.

Jess Puddister and Tim Ward’s tiny home is a shell, with no furniture or appliances currently inside. (Jess Puddister/Facebook)

The province isn’t far behind, with the government recently announcing an inventory of vacant land in the St. John’s metro region earmarked for affordable housing developments. This move aligns with the municipality’s condition that such land must serve affordable housing needs rather than being turned into expensive subdivisions.

Hickey’s success has garnered attention nationwide, prompting inquiries from cities like Ottawa and Halifax, reflecting a growing demand for affordable housing solutions. However, challenges persist, such as municipal requirements for minimum home sizes and the need for regulatory changes to accommodate permanent tiny home structures, especially pertinent in the province’s harsh winter climate.