Resilience in the rain at Tiny House Fest

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BRATTLEBORO — A rainy day only reinforced one of the big themes at Tiny House Fest on Sunday.

"We're talking resilience here and they're showing resilience in the face of this weather," said Erin Maile O'Keefe, co-organizer.

She described attendees as "enthusiastic" while admitting that more people would have come out for the second annual event had it not been for the wet weather. But she pointed to the tiny houses and similar structures being toured on Flat Street as "shelters."

"And this tent, too," she said, referring to the North Stage.

Inside, the presentation was about living off the grid.

"Solar panels are becoming super, super cheap," said Anderson Page, of the Londonderry-based Tiny House Crafters, LLC. "Water is the trickiest thing with tiny houses living off-grid in New England."

He said his group installs a lot of water systems. He considers compost toilets perfect for tiny houses, especially in off-grid settings. They "have come a long way," he told the crowd.

"Propane is fantastic — amazing, amazing source of energy," Page said.

For insulation, he advised against the use of fiberglass.

"I think it's going to be the asbestos of our generation," he said, later adding, "Don't skimp on windows."

He recommended installing new, double pane windows. He called skylights "heat's enemy."

During bathroom breaks, an option included "open-air urinals." The Brattleboro-based Rich Earth Institute collects the human fluid then has it turned into fertilizer for farms.

Nathan Guest, of Athens, had his tiny house on display. He had been inspired to build it after going to the festival last year. It wasn't until the last couple weeks that he deemed the house "show-able."

Attendees commended the woodwork on the interior and the sleeping space upstairs.

"The kids are so attracted to the loft," Guest told visitors after one man likened it to a hiding spot.

Having completed many bathroom and kitchen remodels over the years, Guest said, "I thought this would be a nice, new direction to go in."

State officials also came out for Sunday's event.

"Thanks for bearing this weather with us," Kate Buckley, Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development commissioner, told attendees. "It's a treat."

Vermont Senate Majority Leader Becca Balint, D-Windham District, said talks about the lack of housing have been going on in the state for more than a decade. But this year, a $35,000 bond was approved to help both lower and middle income residents by making more places to live that are more affordable.

In Vermont, according to Buckley, the minimum wage is $10 an hour and the average renter wage is $12.51 per hour. "Fair market" rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,039 a month. An annual income of $45,455 would be needed to afford that.

"If you're earning minimum wage," Buckley said, the number of hours "that you would need to work per hour to pay for... [the] market rate two-bedroom apartment is 88.8 hours a week."

Out of about 255,000 residents, Buckley said, roughly 74,000 Vermonters rent their residences. The Green Mountain State is the 13th most expensive state in which to rent space in the United States, she added.

"The reason I think there's so much interest and intrigue around this tiny house movement is for exactly these reasons," said Jen Hollar, director of policy for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. "Affordable housing is incredibly difficult to come by and of course it also resonates in terms of environmental and social justice and other values that many of us share."

The price of rent nationally is the highest it has been in the past 30 years, according to Hollar.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or @CMaysBR.

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