Tiny home community appeals to minimalist lifestyle

Before the pandemic began, Tim Mastic dreamed of traveling the country in a recreational vehicle.

Since 2016, the University of South Florida graduate has worked remotely for iCIMS, a New Jersey-based company that creates hiring and other human resources software, and he planned to take his job on the road.

But when campgrounds began shutting down, it forced a change in direction and a new tiny homes community in Thonotosassa caught his attention.

“I’ve always kind of followed the minimalism path of not trying to consume and buy everything and have a ton of stuff,” said Mastic, 31.

So he downsized, getting rid of his house and his second car so he could reduce his debt. Now Mastic is one of three residents at the 10-home ESCAPE Tampa Bay Village.

Located in a somewhat rural part of the Tampa Bay area, the development at 11008 U.S. 301 is about 10 minutes by car from the University of South Florida.

Most of the furnished homes, ranging from 250 square feet to 400 square feet or more, have wooden exteriors and a manicured green space. Some have cabin-like wooden interiors, while others are more modern with white interiors. Sales prices on the available seven houses range from $69,970 to $164,450 with various amenities included. Homeowners also pay a monthly lot rental ranging from $400 to $600 a month.

The developers hope to capitalize on a trend of homeowners seeking smaller, more efficient houses, people like Mastic who want to decrease their environmental impact or minimize their belongings and the upkeep of their house.

“People want to live efficiently and this is it,” said Dan Dobrowolski, CEO of ESCAPE Homes.

ESCAPE Homes is based in Wisconsin, but Dobrowolski is a University of South Florida graduate and those roots influenced the decision to bring a community to the Tampa Bay area. Over the next 12 months, the company plans to expand the village by at least 23 units.

Dobrowolski said all the homes are towable units classified as RVs. They were designed to use very little power, and two of the units are solar-assisted. With spray foam insulation, the homes are meant to be energy efficient and also utilize recycled materials.

Mastic said his latest electric bill was $40 — and he keeps the house at 72 degrees. The price per square foot was somewhat higher than a traditional home, but he said he still has a low cost of living.

The homes vary in configuration. Some are single story with a kitchenette and bathroom, and one to two bedrooms. Others are two stories, with a kitchenette and room on the ground level, and a loft on the second level. Some of the lofts come with a mattress on one side and an open space on the other that can be used as another spare room.

There are common spaces located in the center of the community where residents can work indoors or hang out. One room is outfitted with a couch and chair, while the other room is designed as a home office. Chairs on a patio between them allow residents to socialize outside. There are plans to install a pool.

The village is starting a waitlist for people interested in rentals. Agreements run between three and 12 months, with rent ranging from $900-$1,250 a month, according to the company’s website.

Judie Clark, 82, moved into a home at the beginning of July, after about a year of researching tiny homes.

“The upkeep is simple and everything is sort of at your fingertips,” she said.

Clark enjoys the green landscaping of the village and said the community is fairly quiet, despite its location on the highway. She previously lived in a two-story, 1,700-square-foot home and said the move was a big change.

She encourages people to consider their own situation before moving into a tiny home, as she said the compact lifestyle might not suit everyone.

“I think it takes a particular person to be able to accept tiny house living,” she said.

Tiny home communities are similar to mobile home parks, but without the stigma and derogatory names attached, said Elizabeth Strom, a University of South Florida professor who specializes in housing issues. Many of the differences come down to marketing and certain amenities, she said. So far, she has yet to see tiny homes make a large dent in the housing market. Still, tiny homes aren’t new to the area and last year, St. Petersburg hosted a tiny houses festival.

“I think it’s still something of a niche kind of housing,” she said.

There are some environmental benefits to building a smaller home, Strom said, but she’s skeptical of just how much of an impact tiny homes can have. Still, she said it’s important to recognize the value of having a variety of housing options on the market. Tiny homes can give consumers one more choice.

“It meets a need and so there’s nothing wrong with that,” she said.