What exactly is living tiny? The St. Pete Tiny Home Festival answered that question and more on Saturday, April 7 and Sunday April 8. The festival, presented by St. Petersburg College, and produced by LocalShops1 and the Ivy Group Consultants, brought in sold-out ticket crowds of over 2,500 people per day clamoring to check out over 20 tiny homes.
A tiny home is any home under 400 square feet. Some homeowners choose the tiny lifestyle for sustainability, both for the environment and for long-term affordable housing solutions for communities. Jaylessa Blackshear, a volunteer at the festival, says living in tiny and small homes is a good solution for communities seeking affordable long-term housing.
Many proponents of small-home living are seeking places where they can purchase a plot of land to share and create a small community of residences, but having a tiny home on wheels is yet to be approved by the city of St. Petersburg.
“You can’t have affordable living if you’re not giving people the opportunity to own their land,” Blackshear said.
Blackshear, a full-time student at St. Petersburg College, believes that tiny home festivals are not only entertaining events, but essential to expanding and changing the definition of traditional housing ideals.
“By us having tiny house festivals we’re challenging a certain notion… the notion of use rather than room. What are you going to use versus how many rooms you have.”
“Loving it, absolutely loving it,” said Barb Diaz on her switch to living in a tiny home. Diaz is the Tiny Home Coordinator at Gracious Tiny House Park in Lake Okeechobee and traveled to the festival with her 6-by-10-foot mobile office to speak to crowds about tiny house living. Diaz lived in her now office when she was building her 20-foot home in Lake Okeechobee. Her advice for people looking to make the switch? “YouTube is your friend.”
The tiny homes at the festival also proved that good things do come in small packages.
Bryan Bishop, president of New Panel Homes, showed a 100-square-foot structure at the festival.
“We designed this for FEMA for post-hurricane housing. There’s no buildings after a disaster, right? People can’t live in tents for months when they’re rebuilding a city. This bridges the gap from no buildings to permanent buildings,” said Bishop.
The structure comes in a kit, costs $3,000, weighs 400 pounds and takes 30 minutes to build. Bishop says 49 of these emergency houses can be put up in one day, creating reliable and quick shelter for disaster relief personel and survivors.
Other tiny home enthusiasts giving back through tiny living are husband and wife duo John and Fin Kernohan from Georgia. The pair use their Tiny Firehouse: Station No. 9 not only as a traveling home, but also as an educational tool. Dedicated to teaching communities about fire safety, there are three exits available in the firehouse, which is also equipped with a carbon monoxide detector, a smoke detector and a fire extinguisher.
“My husband adores firemen; that’s his hero,” said Fin Kernohan. A fireman’s pole running through the center of the house enforces that love visually, and the couple donates money raised at tiny home festivals and other fundraisers to fire departments across the country.
In addition to guest speakers, food trucks and mobile vendors like Gypsy Junque, Shoptoska and JB’s Sweet Addiction, the festival featured a live home build for fest-goers to see what goes into a tiny home – from the ground (or wheels) up.
Michael Jalazo, executive director of the Pinellas Ex-offender Re-entry Coalition (PERC) – a program that educates participants and helps them gain employment opportunities – teamed up with G2 Design architects for the onsite build. Eric Glinsboeckel of G2 Design created the blueprints for the home and three of Jalazo’s PERC students provided the manpower behind the build.
When completed the structure will serve as Jalazo’s office for PERC and also as a model for what a tiny home looks and feels like. Two versions of the home will be made, one model being on the ground and another on wheels.
“The mayor wanted something he could put his hands on,” said Glinsboeckel, speaking about St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. Tiny home supporters say steps like this are critical to making tiny homes on wheels legal in St. Petersburg.
Ester Venouziou of LocalShops1 reflected on the busy weekend Monday morning.
“For two days, we created an idyllic village. Seeing children playing, homeowners sharing their stories, and everyone helping each other really was just priceless,” said Venouziou. “We hope the festival helped everyone visualize what a tiny home community could be like.”