When Kim Connolly learnt of the epidemic of single older women becoming homeless, she decided she couldn’t sit back and do nothing. After much research and deliberation, she has now started building Tiny Homes as an affordable housing option for these women in need.
Hi Kim. Can you tell us about your connection to the Coffs Coast?
Thirty-two years ago we drove through Coffs Harbour, and it was the only place that was big enough to get a cappuccino but small enough for that country feel. When I finished uni in Sydney, my Canadian sister had moved to Valla with her family, so coffee and family needs were both met by moving to Coffs.
You have started building Tiny Houses for women in need of affordable housing. Can you tell us how this idea first came to you?
As a member of BPW (Business and Professional Women), I attended Affordable Housing Forums and learnt of the epidemic of older women becoming homeless. I just couldn’t talk about it anymore in good faith without doing something concrete, and BPW initially indulged my Tiny House obsession four years ago, when no one knew what a “Tiny” was, but later came on board to wholeheartedly support the Tiny House Village for Older Women concept.
Why did you decide to go with Tiny Houses? What made you believe they were the best option?
Older, single women are using their superannuation to pay their rents and when that money is gone, they can’t pay their rents. Tiny Houses are a preventative measure. The average single woman I’m speaking to ends up with between $63,000 and $120,000 in their superannuation – not enough to buy a traditional home. Tiny Houses are designed by the person to suit their needs. These women have worked all their lives (except when caring for family members) and are not used to needing to ask for help. Tiny Houses are something a woman can do independently with pride.
What were some of the hurdles you faced in making this idea a reality?
The biggest hurdle was my husband, Brian Hopwood. Tiny Houses are the only thing we’ve ever had marriage counselling over! He kept trying to tell me that I couldn’t build them for the costs I was envisioning; he told me that using the spare time of my eldest son, Neeson, who isn’t a builder, wouldn’t work, and he was afraid that if I did it on the cheap with unqualified (although trying very hard) family labour, that my Tiny House would hit the road and fall apart, killing some poor unsuspecting commuter.
Of course – he was right. But the need was still there for older women, and I was determined to get it built, no matter what it took. When he finally understood my village vision, he came on board and I was able to hire a qualified builder who also has a passion for Tiny Houses – “Nifty” Nathan Martin.
What are some of the key features or things you consider most important about the Tiny Houses you build?
Thanks to Nifty and with Brian’s words still ringing in my ears, the Tiny is more reinforced than Grafton Jail, so – sturdiness. The cubic volume of the height of the ceiling affects our psyche, so despite how small the house looks on the outside, it feels big on the inside. Materials must be light, because of weight restrictions, but need to create the feeling of being in a home, not a caravan. And finally, design of course, so it’s functional yet beautiful.
In what ways can you adapt the houses to make them age appropriate, for example?
Our priorities change at different times in our lives. When we’re older, we want to experience life, not spend our lives cleaning, maintaining and worrying about finances. This demographic is why our second Tiny House under construction now has the bedroom on the ground floor, with ease of access for older people.
What benefits do you hope people will get out of these houses?
My goal is to create Tiny House Villages, starting with one mostly for older women. Dr Sandy Darab and Dr Yvonne Hartman (speakers at a BPW Housing forum) described five things that older, single women want: security of tenure; a place of their own; somewhere for visiting grandkids, a pet; and a garden. A Tiny House Village would tick all these boxes. The outlay to buy a “Tiny” is much less, and I’m working with a bank that is creating lending packages for older women. The village concept alleviates land purchase cost and increases quality of life, allowing people to age in their own place in a supportive community. Outside the village, Tiny Houses are one answer to our affordable housing crisis here on the Coffs Coast.
Where can people live in these Tiny Houses? Do you need to own land? Are there many restrictions around where they can be placed?
Because a Tiny House is effectively a caravan, it falls under those Council rules which state that you can have a “member of the owner’s household” live in your back yard-full time or you could have two caravans “so long as they are not occupied for more than two days at a time and are not occupied for more than 60 days in total”. If you own land, you need a DA to be allowed to live in your “Tiny” while your big house is being built. Personally, I hope we can make Tiny Homes a house type so someone doesn’t think like I did and build a cheap, dangerous, road hazard! Yes Brian, you were right (but so was I).
Where can we find out more about Tiny Habitat Homes?
We’re open from 11 – 2 Wednesday to Sunday, or by appointment.
We’re looking for people to be part of the creation of the Tiny House Village Co-operative now. Contact Kim for more details.