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Living larger life in 'tiny house': Superintendent advocates for Farmington to lead Tiny Home movement

Jay Haugen of Farmington said tiny house residents are people who can enhance a city. “These are folks you want to have in your community who volunteer, shop local and have community gardens and are part of life,” he said. Kara Hildreth / contributor 1 / 3
Farmington Superintendent Jay Haugen is the new owner of a 'tiny house' and wants to be an advocate and see Farmington lead the way in the tiny house movement. Kara Hildreth / contributor 2 / 3
Living as a widow today, Jay Haugen decided to fulfill his wife’s dream of owning a tiny home. He chooses to live by design in a greener house that gives way to a more simple way of life and allows for more time to devote to the community. Kara Hildreth / contributor3 / 3

Imagine living in the city close to nature with a panoramic view that showcases blue skies and the lush forest. Imagine living modestly in a tiny house that harkens back to a carefree childhood treehouse in the woods.

Resembling a modern cabin in the woods, Farmington School District Superintendent Jay Haugen said his new tiny house is engineered brilliantly to meet all his needs.

And in an appeal to the Farmington City Council last month, Haugen said he would like Farmington to lead the way in removing barriers for all who seek to live in different ways with their tiny houses.

His home sleeps six comfortably and offers a kitchen, dining area, loft space and storage space. Inside his tiny house, there is a spacious vertical feel with an 11-foot cathedral ceiling, two ceiling fans and panoramic windows.

Lifetime dream

Fulfilling a lifetime dream he shared with his wife Janet, Haugen bought the house a few months after his wife died earlier this year. Janet wanted the couple to buy a tiny home after their children moved out because Haugen said his wife believed in a simpler life. She wanted to devote more time to volunteering in her community. This smaller home would enable those lifetime aspirations.

Haugen said when he worked in Sleepy Eye, Minn., he befriended a man who loved architecture that had incredible function. The Haugens began to see the value in not living with the constant daily and weekly workload of chores that needed to be done inside and outside a larger home.

"Another reason I have a tiny house is that I have a large farm in North Dakota that has beautiful land with lakes and rolling hills, and it has been in my family forever and I want to go there for a considerable time in the summer and when I retire," Haugen said in an interview.

As an advocate, Haugen and his grown children have welcomed friends and curious strangers to take a step inside his tiny house. In recent months, Haugen and his children took a memorable road trip up north to lay his wife's ashes to rest on the family farm in North Dakota.

Since the home on wheels gets about six miles to the gallon, the family made frequent gas stops.

"When I am at the gas station, my girls know the drill while I am pumping gas," Haugen said. His daughters grew accustomed to fielding all kinds of queries while giving tours.

The modest home is 313 square feet, measuring 8 1/2 feet wide, 13 feet high and 25 feet long. Tiny houses offer modest living with less than 500 square feet.

Haugen grew accustomed to living lean in terms of space and within close quarters. His family lived on the open sea for a year with the family dog aboard a sailboat.

First in Farmington

Today Haugen has learned more than 40,000 tiny home advocates network across the country and state, and many cities have yet to catch up to meet the needs of the ways people who own tiny homes wish to live.

Some desire to live in a home on wheels and some want to buy land and lay foundations for their homes. Many strongly desire to become a part of neighborhoods.

"These are folks you want to have in the community who want to volunteer, shop local and have community gardens and be a part of life," Haugen said.

Haugen wants to help Farmington lead on the issue.

"I have been meeting all kinds of people who own and more than a dozen who work in Rosemount, Lakeville and Farmington who do not want to live a vagabond lifestyle," Haugen said.

Stephanie Kubes, a veterinary technician who works in Lakeville, is interested in living closer to work in her new tiny home. Right now she has a considerable commute.

"My experience living in my tiny home is that it has been magical, whimsical and like a dream," Kubes said.

Like most tiny house homeowners, Kubes has been challenged by where to park her home permanently.

"I want to be a part of a tiny house community," she said.

Kubes added: "It is a newer movement and there is the fear of the unknown because there is not a lot of data."

Today Kubes works as an advocate for new homeowners and communicates with cities.

"City planners may be afraid of something new and the unknown because the structures have to be up to national code, up to city codes and state codes," Kubes said.

Living independently

Many younger people want to be independent and this offers affordable living, Haugen said. Some earn modest incomes and this type of home can offer a way to live independently rather than rely on public assistance or housing subsidies, Haugen said. Others can choose to live because they can have more disposable income.

"This could change us as a people and the amount of effort as government entities that go into supporting" families, Haugen said. "This is much more of a movement and when looking at the projections there is expected to be a million tiny homes by 2025," he said.

Tiny house homeowners do not want to reside in backyards because of lack of ordinances, Haugen said adding: "We are losing people to other states and communities because others are more welcoming, and all tiny house people I have met are moving into a tiny house as a way toward taking a positive step toward improving their lives, and part of that positive step is toward improving their community and world."

The 'tiny house' movement

What: The tiny house movement is growing across the globe and in the United States. The houses range from 100 to 400 square feet.

How: Cities or municipalities establish zoning ordinances to regulate land use, location, height, width, type of foundation, number of stories and size of buildings.

Last year, the tiny house community celebrated a watershed moment with the official appendix in the 2018 version of the International Residential Code, the model building code used by most U.S. jurisdictions.

Who: The tiny home structures are regulated by Minnesota State Building Code, the standard of construction for statewide buildings.

Connect: Go to www.tinyhousebuild.com.

Source: Tiny Houses face sheet from Minnesota Department of Labor and industry

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