D.C.’s tiny houses are the architectural equivalent of that perfect couple you used to envy on Facebook: ultraphotogenic, cultured (they hosted a series of one-act plays last month), and so much quirkier and more interesting than anything going on in your bloated apartment. But now the status has flipped: The tiny houses are divorcing.
After two years of living on their Stronghold lot and inspiring a national housing conversation with their 140-to-200-square-foot homes, the three members of the Boneyard Studios tiny house showcase are breaking up. It’s not amicable. The novel, communal lifestyle presented in Pinky Swear Productions’ Tiny House Plays is absent as the end unfolds—a forced eviction gone public following months of internal squabbling.
On Aug. 19, two of the three trailer owners, Jay Austin and Lee Pera, announced on the community’s website that they would be leaving the lot and taking the Boneyard name with them. (For the purpose of the District’s zoning laws, the houses are technically trailers—they each have wheels, and cannot serve as permanent residences.) The third member, lot owner Brian Levy, would not be joining them in their to-be-determined new location in D.C.
Austin set the scene on his personal blog. “I left behind my tiny house community in May and came back in August to find it in ruins, the short-sighted work of a friend-turned-landlord, landlord-turned-slumlord,” he wrote in a Sept. 25 post. “I’ll soon find myself part of a tiny house community-in-exile, and I’ve spent a lot of time grappling with that: the uncertainty, the loss, the betrayal.”
None of Boneyard’s bike-riding, rainwater-catching, sustainable-living advocates wanted “to devolve this into a Jerry Springer show in a trailer park,” Levy told me. After all, Boneyard was supposed to be an exemplar for a utopian vision: In a city with sky-high rent and gentrification-ravaged neighborhoods, here was genuinely affordable housing (Austin built his for just more than $40,000), conceived in an ultra-sustainable manner, capable of bringing a community together.
Instead, the District’s only tiny house community is falling apart over construction, vegetables, name-calling, and poop.
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