Housing Complex

McDuffie Wants You to Know He Does NOT Support Tiny Houses

For our Best of D.C. issue, out today, I wrote about the "Best Tiny Houses." It was an easy choice: It went to what, as far as I'm aware, are the city's only tiny houses, a delightful collection of micro-dwellings on wheels on a small plot of land between alleys in Stronghold.

Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie lives right across one of the alleys from the tiny houses, and in my pick, I wrote that he's been "generally supportive" of the project. That was based on a conversations I had with him and with one of the tiny house creators in the fall.

Now, McDuffie calls to say that he recalls our conversation differently, and he in fact does not support the project. (My memory of the conversation is still clear, and apparently different from McDuffie's.)

"As a concept, tiny houses, I don’t have a problem with, but the location has been a huge problem, and there’s been no support from any of the neighbors who reached out to me or my office," McDuffie says.

He'd like to see a "happy medium," he says, but "it just doesn't exist." The neighbors are universally opposed, and the tiny house folks want to stay, and there's no simple compromise.

I don't have a recording of our earlier conversation, so I can't prove that McDuffie was supportive, but his opposition now is clear. And it's understandable: If his constituents in the area—some of whom used to use the space for unofficial parking before it was purchased by one of the tiny house builders and are irked at the takeover of the plot by newcomers with their strange project—are all against the tiny houses, he has little reason to come out publicly for them.

Still, it'd be a shame to see a project that's the best in its admittedly small class displaced by political considerations. Here's hoping that some sort of compromise can still be worked out.

Update: Tiny houses co-creator Brian Levy says he and his collaborators have received support from a number of neighbors, including six or seven who border the property, but that those neighbors aren't as vocal in reaching out to McDuffie as the opponents. "People who are fearing change are the ones who pick up the phones," he says.

Still, Levy and co. were surprised to read of McDuffie's current opposition to the project, given earlier conversations he'd had with them. "We were surprised, given the many supportive neighbors we’ve taked to, that he would oppose this project, which is really meant to be a showcase of affordable housing and sustainable design," Levy says.

Levy will soon be sending McDuffie a letter highlighting community support for the project. He says his team has knocked on the doors of all 20-some houses bordering the lot at least three times in the past year. Opposition to the project, where it exists, largely centers on the loss of parking.

"Oddly enough, we haven’t had any complaints about noise," he says. "Obviously we’re working during construction hours and try to be as respectful as possible."

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Kevin

    Out of curiosity, what are they opposed to other than the fact that they used to use the lot for parking? (but they still had no actual rights to it)

  • http://boneyardstudios.com Brian Levy

    The only complaints we have received directly were about loss of (illegal) parking - please see our faqs: http://boneyardstudios.com/faqs/for-neighbors/

    In fact we have had many Stronghold neighbors come by to our open houses, and walk by the lot with a smile and thumbs up. There are 3 neighbors on the Councilmember's same block that are gardening in the community garden. Another came by with a bottle of wine to welcome us to the neighborhood. In fact we've felt so welcomed (with one or two exceptions), that we gave a shout out to all the great Stronghold neighbors we've recently met: http://boneyardstudios.com/2012/07/01/our-great-neighbors/
    Unfortunately no one calls the Councilmember with happy news, but one doesn't have to look far.


  • Stronghold Resident

    I live one block up from this site, pass it numerous times every day, and I have no problem with it at all. I am certainly not "opposed." The tiny house lot seems pleasant and the gardens are coming in nicely.

    Besides losing parking spaces why would the neighbors be upset? I have not heard any of my neighbors complain about this lot.

  • Actually

    Are any of the "tiny houses" being sold at the location?

  • http://boneyardstudios.com Lee Pera

    Thanks, Stronghold resident. As a co-creator of this project, I have been surprised at all the wonderful and positive feedback we have received from people in the neighborhood and city in general. I have recently been contacted by community advocates in Wards 2 and 8 about talking about tiny houses in the context of different types of affordable housing models and sustainable, community-centered living in an urban space.

    Long before I began this project, I was fortunate to meet a single mom in DC with two girls building a tiny house on wheels. We are certainly not the only ones doing this in DC, but we have chosen to be more public about our projects than others because we see it as a good way to start the dialogue (and hopefully) action on some of the larger issues DC faces like rising housing costs in addition to supporting other positive efforts we see in the city like the growing community gardens movement.

  • Sue

    Have you had an open house, inviting neighbors & others to actually visit, perhaps share a barbecue or whatever, to show that 1) you're not whacked out druggies; 2) you're responsible homeowners, just like them, 3) you're part of the community, just as they are & 4) as an educational tool to teach about alternative, affordable living.
    I know I'D attend, but then I'm a tiny home owner wannabe! ;)
    Those disgruntled because of loss of free, illegal parking is a non-issue.
    Good luck!

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  • Beth

    Could it be that McDuffie is getting some heat from real estate types that are seeing a diminished value on the neighborhood housing stock ( which I seriously doubt being it's DC) or perhaps a real estate developer that wanted the land to build something more profitable? As they say, follow the money trail

  • Jim

    Sue, if you read the comments above, you'd see that they have, indeed, done everything you mentioned.

  • http://boneyardstudios.com Lee Pera

    No, no tiny houses being sold. These are all personal projects which we are all building with the help of builders and architects. Yes, we have monthly open houses, and we had a neighborhood bbq last summer and will do another one this summer. You can find out more information on our blog and sign up to visit.

  • Josh in Brookland

    I absolutely love tiny houses. I can't wait to attend an open house and see the project in action.

  • Carlyle

    I, for one, am opposed, and here's why: they are manufacturing a product, outdoors, in a residential zone. They have created a perpetual construction zone for doll houses in our back yards! If neighbors are annoyed (and some of us are) it's because we are accustomed to living next to a quiet alley. Thanks to this quarter-baked idea, we now live next to Gepetto's workshop, with hammering and supply trucks disturbing us at all hours. If you want to manufacture batches of small houses, go find yourself some appropriately zoned land near the metro tracks and have at it. DCRA needs to put a stop to this.

  • http://tinyhomesteadfreedom.blogspot.com/ Victoria Whitcher

    Carlyle, You live in a city. Noise comes with that ground. Even if someone is building a shed, a barn, a tiny house or an addition. If you do not want noise perhaps you should live in the woods. If they are building during the day thats called bussiness. I built my tiny house. I don't recall having loads of trucks dropping things off. Maybe my pickup truck. Tad dramatic much? This is a free country. That my husband and I currently serve. We should be allowed to liveand build in a comforatble safe home, as you are allowed with your house. If the noise was bothering you, perhaps you should have asked for quiet hours after bussiness day.

    My neighbor could build a bunker during the day and I would have no idea. I spend my day at WORK. Perhaps you should be more productive during the day then.

  • http://tinyhomesteadfreedom.blogspot.com/ Victoria Whitcher

    More important fact. How many aparments around DC are smaller then these. TONS. How many of these are infested with mice and bugs. How many single mothers and fathers are forced to live in this apartments because the cost of living in DC? Why is it so difficult for people to think outside of the box. Imagine little communities like these around the city, with a park and a garden and room for children to play. A safe place for women raising children alone. I offer my landowner a drug test and to come over anytime to prove I was not a random RV person that lived off drugs. Imagine what we can give to the future of children if we offer these as housing instead of public ghetto housing. Which I lived in as a child. It would probabily have changed the course of so many of my family members. DC is one of the highest crime citys in America. I think the last of your worries needs to be "tiny houses".

  • CarlyleG

    Victoria, your long reply still managed to ignore the central premise of my argument, which is that an alley in a residential neighborhood is an inappropriate place for commercial manufacturing. No one is living on the premises where the small houses are being built. It's simply a commercial manufacturing operation. Move it to an industrially zoned area and carry on saving the world.

  • http://boneyardstudios.com Brian Levy

    For the record (and as you will see on our website faqs), the lot is zoned R-3 and there is no commercial activity on the lot of any kind. I personally confirmed this with the head of zoning (Mr. LeGrant) at DCRA before any construction began last summer. We are 3 friends building these tiny houses on wheels together for our own use, and they are not for sale.

    We are also strictly complying with all construction hour requirements. Our contact information has been clearly posted on the fence next to the lot since the property was acquired, and to date no one has personally contacted us with any noise complaints.

  • plow

    I'm not understanding your complaint, which sounds as if this is a manufacturing/ light industrial zone creating products that are being shipped out. I don't see how that is the case, and if that is your only argument, there seems to be zero problem with this project.

    House building can happen in any residentially zoned area. this is no more of a Gepettos Workshop than any construction site.

  • http://www.jayaustin.info Jay Austin


    As the third Boneyardian, I just wanted to jump in and offer my apologies if you've found the noise too loud or construction too frequent. Though we only build during construction hours and try to limit our noise and deliveries as much as possible, we ARE building four houses, and things get (unfortunately) a bit loud at times.

    That said, if you're ever finding the noise to be particularly loud or annoying, PLEASE come talk to us, and we'll do whatever we can to be sure we're not disturbing you during, say, a family dinner or Saturday barbecue. I'm happy to report that the houses are NEARLY done, meaning that power tools and truck drop-offs should be rarer occasions in the coming months. Once construction wraps up fully this summer, I expect the alley will be returned to its quiet tranquility of years past--quieter, even, given that it will no longer be used for illegal coming-and-going parking.

    As for the complaint about commercial operations, I promise: that's simply not happening here. Personally, I've already invested about $35,000 of my own money in the Matchbox (the charred-wood tiny home with the flat roof), and have virtually no plans to recoup any of that through any tiny house-related business. As Brian said, we're just three friends looking to quell our creative urges and thirst for simplicity through this fun project, and were we interested in making a quick buck, I imagine there'd be much easier ways through which to do it. :)

    Anyway, I just want to reiterate that I am sorry you've found the tiny houses to be an annoyance, but want you to know that if you ever want to talk about how we can be more responsive to your needs, I'm at jay@boneyardstudios.com. Thanks Carlyle!

  • Another Stronghold resident

    Before throwing our Councilman under the bus, I suggest you speak with some longtime residents of Stronghold. I can start with my personal experience. The project was initially presented as a community garden -- not as little houses. Early on, I introduced myself to the owner and was impressed with him and the project. I suggested giving the neighborhood kids an opportunity to learn to garden and told him about the Howard University medical students project of planting gardens in Ward 4 and suggested that could happen in our neighborhood. I invited him to come to the civic association meeting. He was very pleasant, but he never mentioned little houses --we only talked community gardens. I would suggest you speak to other neighbors including the Civic Association as to when it was revealed the "community gardens" would also include "little houses".

    A fence was later built making the alley extremely narrow and dangerous. It is a lawsuit waiting to happen with a car and pedestrian. I took pictures and measurements of the alley. Although I was not taking pictures or measurements of the garden or houses, I was confronted by "Tony" who was working on the houses. After I told him about my concerns, he falsely told me that I do not have a right to use the alley and according to DC law the alley could not be used as a thoroughfare and was only to be used by residents who park their cars in their backyard. The tiny house web site states one of the goals is to "promote zoning/code changes".

    Stronghold is landlocked and the only street to come in or out is busy North Capitol. It is dangerous making a left turn in either direction on North Capitol from the side streets so many residents use the alley to get to a street with a traffic light. I strongly suggest that Stronghold residents think about the impact this will have on their navigation back and forth to their homes, especially with construction and completion of the McMillian project if the “little houses” are successful with what "Tony" claims now is the law.

    I haven't spoken with Councilman McDuffie about this but maybe he has heard of similar experiences which caused him to discontinue support. For the record, most of the parking on that lot was hospital employees with Maryland and Virginia tags. After the "garden" was started they begin to park on the side streets which is the reason all the streets now have residential zone parking.

  • Lee

    Thanks, another Stronghold resident. I am not sure when you chatted with Brian about it just being a garden project. I was at the first community association meeting with him, and we both mentioned the gardens and the tiny houses at that first meeting - even bringing pictures of a tiny house and an invite to an open house we hosted with Wangari Gardens up the street from Stronghold.

    Unfortunately we've asked all the neighbors who abut the lot about gardening, and only one is really interested in a garden plot. If you know of others in the neighborhood who are, please let us know so we can reach out to them as we have a couple more available.

    The fence was put up at the request of neighbors who were concerned about safety - we heard that complaint a few times, so Brian put up a fence to ease those concerns.

    As for driving in the alley, I don't know about any laws prohibiting that at all. I do know there are speed limits in the alleys where I live in Shaw, and I would assume there are in the alleys in Stronghold too.

  • http://boneyardstudios.com Brian Levy

    Simply not true. We personally flyered every house bordering the alley in late March 2012, a week after the lot was bought, which clearly described the project (houses+garden). A version of this flyer has been clearly posted on the lot perimeter since April 2012, along with all required permits (including the fence permit from DCRA). We also presented the tiny house project at the May 7 and Aug 13 2012 Stronghold Civic Association meetings.

    Every alley in DC has blind corners. The Boneyard fence is no closer to the alley than any other fence along the alley. The decision to erect the fence was made after the May 7 Stronghold Association meeting, when liability issues were raised by residents. Tim Clark at McDuffies office promised to look into alley mirrors with DDOT at the Aug meeting. I followed up 2x but heard nothing back. Mirrors could be helpful all up and down all Stronghold alleys. Last, as everyone knows, all DC alleyways are common right of ways for use by all pedestrians, cyclists and cars.

  • Dirk

    hello, can anyone help me to the mail-address of Brian Levy?
    thanks, dirk

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