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Can tiny homes alleviate Ironwood’s housing shortage?


Climbing interest rates are starting to cool the blazing housing market in cities across the country.

But in places like Ironwood, where the housing stock is cheaper and many buyers can afford to pay in cash, interest rates have less of an effect.

“Our housing market is super tight still,” says Tom Bergman, Ironwood’s community development director. “It seems like most houses barely even make it onto the market. As soon as somebody finds out it’s going up for sale, realtors already have buyers lined up for them.”

So, Ironwood is getting creative.

In an attempt to open up more housing, the city is revising its zoning ordinance and proposing two main changes.

The first would allow people to add ‘accessory dwelling units’ to their property.

“So where their house is, they could build a garage with living quarters above it or maybe they could have a full separate living structure that’s smaller than the principal living structure where they could potentially rent it out to a long-term renter or bring in an elderly family member,” Bergman explains.

The second change would let developers build tiny houses on lots that are too small for a traditional single-family home.

“If you allow a smaller footprint home, like a tiny home, they’ll be able to meet requirements,” Bergman says. “But it may be a 300 or 400 square foot house, as compared to what the minimum is now, which is about 650 square feet.”

Bergman says there are lots of these small, vacant lots in Ironwood because when really old houses fall into disrepair, the city sometimes tears them down.

“Over the last decade, the city has town down like 130, or 140 homes, and often those homes were on sub-standard lots,” he says.

Now those lots could be put to use, increasing Ironwood’s supply of affordable housing.

Bergman says he expects the new zoning ordinance will be adopted in the next month, so it will be in place for the next building season.

Whether people will be willing to live in tiny homes, is a question that remains to be seen.

Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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