September 26, 2018
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Would you live in a tiny house commune? You might have the chance

By Julia Bayly, BDN Staff
Updated:

Alan Plummer has some big plans for tiny houses in Maine, combining elements of a planned community with 1960s-style communal living.

“I want to build a compact community designed to encourage, educate and demonstrate how to live simply, respectfully and lovingly in cooperation,” Plummer said. “By living simply, each member of the community would be helping our environment on a personal level, by living each day simply and responsibly.”

Plummer, the Maine representative to the American Tiny House Association, is building his own tiny house on a small piece of land in Manchester. The next step, if all goes according to plan, is finding and purchasing a larger plot of land for what he envisions as a sort of startup community for others interested in the tiny house lifestyle.

There is no legal definition of a tiny house, but a residential structure under 500 square feet is generally accepted to be a tiny home, according to various online groups advocating the simplified lifestyle.

Plummer wants to bring them together.

“Through my work with the [American Tiny House Association] I have a lot of contact with people interested in tiny houses,” he said. “I also work with municipal code enforcement, so I am on top of codes when it comes to building tiny houses in Maine.”

Still largely on paper, Plummer’s planned Tiny Soul-ar Eco Village would cover between 10 and 15 acres in southern Maine and be an affordable temporary home for up to 25 people at a time, plus an additional half-dozen or so permanent residents who would assist in building other tiny houses on the property.

In a rent-to-own model, Plummer would pre-build several tiny houses on the property. Temporary Eco Village residents would pay $300 per month in rent to live in one of those houses plus additional $500 per month to cover the cost of building their own tiny house in the village.

At the end of four years that resident would own the new tiny house. They have the option to extend the lease for an additional year but must move off the land by the end of that period.

At the end of four years, a member of Tiny Soul-ar Eco Village would own their own home with about $26,000 in equity — including furnishings — and ready to look for their own plot of land on which to move it. Plummer envisions multiple tiny houses being built at a time in the village with new residents coming in to replace those who move on.

“I want people to be able to build their own tiny houses but not move to the village indefinitely,” Plummer said. “At the end of four years, they would own their own tiny house outright and would then pick it up and move.”

That, he said, would make room for the next person looking to get into affordable, tiny house living. It’s that aspect of helping new homeowners that attracts Sonya Connelly to Plummer’s vision.

“What really resonates with me and gets me excited about the eco-village is the concept of it being self-sufficient [and] the idea of helping people who could not own traditional homes develop the financial freedom to own their own homes,” Connelly said.

“While living in the village, they would also enjoy the cooperative aspects of communal living,” Plummer said. “Among other things, sharing common tools and in working together in chores like gardening and operating a farm stand.”

Connelly met Plummer last October though social media and said he put her in touch with a tiny home resident in the Ellsworth area.

“I was able to visit that tiny home to see if it was something I’d like and could do,” she said.

Instead of build her own tiny home, Connelly said she purchased a vintage Airstream travel trailer and is living in it on friend’s land in Ellsworth. She described her pre-tiny living life in New York City as living “a hamster wheel,” working to pay rent with little left over.

“I wanted something different,” she said. “Now my overhead is a tenth of what it was in New York City.”

Helping people find that greater financial freedom through cooperative living is something Connelly wants to be part of in the planned eco-village. Community cooperation, helping each other, shared resources and bartering would all be part of life in Tiny Soul-ar Eco Village, according to Plummer. Established residents also would help newcomers build their own tiny houses, he said.

Plummer is fully aware some may view his plan as an attempt to establish a Utopian village and stressed there will be rules by which residents must abide.

“I have been doing a lot of reading on different types of governance,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I want to purchase and hold the land privately, so I have a say on what happens on it.”

Plummer envisions an advisory board of residents running the day-to-day operations of Tiny Soul-ar Eco Village with an outside board of directors he will establish as a legal entity to enforce the rules.

“The board [of directors] would be the rule-makers, but I don’t want them running the community,” he said. “Ideally, they will ‘rubber stamp’ what the advisory board recommends, but [the board of directors] will be the bad guys [and enforce rules] if needs be.”

Plummer may currently lack the land for his village — he is actively looking for an affordable parcel in the southern Maine area — but there is no lack of interest from people looking to start tiny house living.

“I am fully behind this community,” David Philips of Portland said. “I like the manageability of living in a tiny house and how that will effect my quality of life.”

The 53-year-old anesthesia technologist is living in a traditional house but said he is ready to downsize to a tiny house.

“I know my level of determination, and [living in] a tiny house makes so much sense for so many reasons,” Philips said. “Living what I call a larger life with so many possessions takes a lot of space and time, and I have really started re-evaluating how I want to spend my time, and living in a tiny house village would allow more time for me and just living life.”

Plummer has started bringing potential tiny village residents together, at least online with 189 registered members of his MeetUp Group and nearly 200 followers on his Tiny House Peeps of Southern Maine Facebook page. There is also a website devoted to the plan.

“There are absolutely people who are interested in this,” Plummer said. “By being online we can remain connected and share ideas.”

Plummer said he’s been talking to people for several years, ranging from first-time home buyers to retirees.

“There are a bunch of different reasons they are interested in living tiny,” he said. “Some are sick of collecting stuff, some are tired of a high cost of living and some see the writing on the wall and want to start living in an environmentally, sustainable manner.”

Plummer’s planned village will be on the utility grid, but residents will be encouraged to build homes that are highly energy efficient.

Philips is all in.

“When I started thinking about tiny living, I started looking around and found out about what [Alan Plummer] is planning,” he said “I’m excited to be part of the online community.”

Plummer hopes to take his planned village from the drawing board to reality within the next year or so.

“Right now [I’m] just looking for the right piece of affordable land,” he said.

 


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