home · Step 4: Cutting Costs

Which is Cheaper: Tiny House or Government Housing?

Fretting about the noise that came with this summer’s tourists, two weeks ago I applied for government housing. I’d long thought I “should” try it. By income and other trippy circumstances, I’m eligible. But, it didn’t feel right because I have savings, and other families are surely more in need. But more at issue was my fear: I was scared that high-density, low-cost housing would trigger the really weird symptoms I get with noise.

I’m diagnosed with autism and similar neurological factors, while also having had some severe traumas. One or more of these pieces results in me having a very terrible experience of sound that many other people are able to ignore or cope with. Many “normal” sounds are experienced “like a hundred hammers hitting me,” while sudden noises spike my adrenaline and trick my body into thinking death is imminent. When I’m in quiet places, or for short times in places I expect to have sounds, I’m just fine.

But, you know those decisions, those options you put off for years—with fear of getting what you ask for, or pride standing in the way, or independence calling the shots? Eventually, it comes time to confront those, to just go for it.

So, I applied for government housing.

Much to my astonishment, in an area with a wait list of at least two years, we were offered a place days later! I was told that as a result of the government’s “point system,” we were so high on the priority list that “only a family sleeping in a car would have come ahead” of us. Oh! This is remarkable, because while we do indeed meet so many of the criteria, when we have a peaceful place to live, our lives are pretty great!

The irony, then, was that the government housing would not have been the peaceful place that makes all well for us. There was an assortment of very real issues present. However, for the purpose of this post, I wanted to explore just the financial aspect, offering a quick study in my region’s housing cost options:

Home #1: Private “Market” Rental
Exactly the amount of space we need.
Oodles of nature.
At least 48 weeks of the year, silent.
Included: parking, electric, gas, heat, maintenance, limited internet.
Option for light caregiving in exchange for reduced rent.
$500/mo

Home #2: Ownership of the Cheapest Home
Three times the amount of space we need.
No nature.
Higher density.
Utilities not included.
$2,550/mo for 25 years, then (at today’s costs) $450/mo + furniture, etc, ongoing

Home #3: Government Housing
Three times the space we need.
No nature.
Higher density.
Utilities not included.
$660/mo

What a great exercise in checking assumptions and costs!

  • Is government-housing always the cheapest option?
  • If not, what is?
  • Do I need 1400 sq feet?
  • If so, why? Can those needs be met any other way?
  • Our society often holds a “bigger is better” viewpoint. Is this always true? Do I want to clean and heat 3x the space I actually need?
  • Is committing to a mortgage really the only way to successfully save up? Is there any other way thousands of people are doing so?
  • If I put the difference of $2050/mo into a “couch potato” low-fee index portfolio, what would the difference in long-term gain be?
  • Is it really beyond me to learn what a couch potato low-free index portfolio is?
  • If learning about the simplest investment method did prove to be challenging for me, such that I took two years to very slowly and gently learn about it before investing, what would the remaining long-term gain be?

After spending time considering and researching the details of Option 3, I came home to my small, sweet, tidy, quiet home and felt relief and joy. Yes, I had to deal with another week or so of other people’s light sounds, but it suddenly seemed again entirely worth it! A “bigger place” simply could not justify paying more to move to a high-density, smokey, nature-absent space.

Was it worth exploring? Absolutely! I gained so much in the research and visit.

In the meantime, I watched some TV with earbuds in to block the neighbour sounds, practiced more meditation, and ranted with friends until we laughed about it. I also rearranged my tiny home to create much more space: finally returning the extra paper shredder and its box; stacking my winter bedding vertically; spending $10 on two more pretty filing crates; moving a stack of library books from a shelf to an unused patch of floor.

With ten bucks and an hour, my low-cost “squishier in summer” place returned to its status as my ideal home. And, because this is the way life works, as soon as I made these adjustments, the tourists went home and left only the silence behind.

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