More on Small Homes in Cities

You know what? I am suddenly REALLY excited by this idea. Just as I was with the idea of building on a piece of land in the country in the ’60s-’70s.

Different time now.

The last 2 posts hit a nerve: there have been 24 comments on the subject so far.

I was thinking last night about the concept of building in sketchy city neighborhoods:

To be sure, there are these. A beautiful young woman was gunned down 2 days ago in Oakland, trying to protect her kids from a gun fight on the streets. But I believe there a lot more neighborhoods that don’t have drugs and gunshots. When I go to Berkeley, I often cruise Oakland, Richmond, El Cerrito, San Leandro; have checked out Hayward (big town) and Vallejo (on the bay, old buildings downtown, about to get hot I’ll bet). Then there’s Martinez, Benecia, Hercules, San Ramon, Livermore, Danville…This is San Francisco Bay area, my turf, but others in other urban areas will know the outlying towns of big cities.

Point is: not every part of every city’s small building neighborhoods is a crime combat zone. I find tons of neighborhoods that don’t look dangerous.

Here are a few homes in the East Bay. How many little homes like this are in the USA?

I just decided we’ll have a big section in our forth coming book, Small Homes, on “Small Homes in Cities.” If you have something to contribute, write us at

About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

8 Responses to More on Small Homes in Cities

  1. This is going on where I live, too. Remodeling former military family houses, which look very similar to your pics above. Mostly craftsman style updates. They're very cute and now in a desirable area of town, within walking/biking distance of everything. Another indicator I'm looking at are population projections for the next 5 years and development plans for the city. What I can drive by today 5 minutes from the city limit, might look like an empty farmer's field and a small one horse town, will overnight be housing developments and people looking to move out of the city.

  2. Lloyd, I think that sounds great, to showcase this type of home…

    Recently I was driving in Calgary, and got lost on the way to where I was going. Ended up in a neighbourhood, with a number of small homes, smaller than above. Of course, since reading your blog, I now notice these things.

    They looked like they need a fair bit of "work". However, I believe from what I've heard on radio shows, that sometimes, "new" zoning restrictions dictate limits on what can be fixed up on old houses/etc.. (seriously). These ones I noticed, had a fair bit of commercial activity/buildings close by, so I wonder if at times these areas have been re zoned "commercial"?

    If you are taking new pics of this type of home, it would be interesting to know if they are in similar sort of areas (turning commercial). I thnk in those type of cases, taxes go up (to commercial rates), and the owner is just hanging on for a big offer.

  3. 28 years ago we moved into a small 1100 square foot house a block from our small town downtown.Over time as our friends "upgraded" into bigger houses and mortgages, we stayed and continued to remodel and adapt our home. Four children have been raised in this house. Three boys stacked upon each other in the same room, their sister alone in the small bedroom. Wouldn't trade this house or experience for a bigger place.

  4. Lloyd –

    I'm enjoying this post – Here in southern Connecticut, commutable to NYC, housing is obviously expensive. There are relative bargains to be had in cities like Bridgeport. The biggest drawbacks I have observed are schools and taxes. There are school alternatives, but first time buyer programs or tax breaks for folks that will improve blighted properties would be a great idea to help spur revitalization in my opinion.

  5. The typical "starter" house in New England was a 24' X 24" Cape Cod, with two bedrooms upstairs and kitchen, bathroom, diningroom and living room downstairs. When you had more money, you could typicvally add on a room or porch or garage or move up to a larger house. many of these are still available.

  6. Our home in Portland is 1000 sqft, on a double lot. Bought cheap on account of decades deferred maintainance and run down neighborhood. I wanted a productive hands on project for my free time and we both wanted to live biking distance from jobs. Fixed nearly everything ourselves, learning as we went along. Ten years on, we have a home we love and low recurring housing expenses. Neighborhood has improved, houses going for way more than we would pay for shelter. Wasn't always easy, but we would do it again.

  7. Hey,
    tried to comment on the other blog, re this post, it kept kicking the comment out, saying it would not post it.

    here is the "comment" if you care to transfer it.

    all good. I always feel sad when I drive by old houses being torn down, parts not even saved. Makes me wonder about the lives of those folks who lived there…the effort they put in to the houses.

    here's a good news story re small old homes.

    The Biggest Little House in the World: A Reno, Nevada, Tiny Home

    In Reno, Nevada, two designers hit the jackpot with small homes that focus on reuse and urban infill.

    In downtown Reno—the "biggest little city in the world"
    —revamped railroad sleeping quarters become slick urban homes.

    Tired of seeing core urban areas in their hometown of Reno, Nevada, deteriorate, Pamela Haberman and Kelly Rae began buying and renovating run-down homes in 1998. Their company, HabeRae Properties, specializes in urban infill projects, many with small square footages.

    The pair was determined to focus on tiny homes

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