Not everyone dreams of living in a toilet.
It was May of 2015, and a small crew and I were in Austin, Texas, filming a sizzle reel for a television show concept. We were filming a scene at a little food truck called the East Side King, tucked behind a bar called Liberty. After scarfing down a helping of beet fries and tongue buns--yes, the adventurous foodies among you must try this place--I excused myself to use the restroom.
Instead of heading inside to use Liberty's loo, I spotted a porta potty just steps away. My life hasn't been the same since.
I immediately fell in love with this toilet. It was like stepping into a plastic palace of poop-tastic proportions, so spacious and clean. The interior was big. Stretching out my arms, I couldn't reach the sidewalls. Were I so inclined, I could even lay down in the thing. "Someone could live in here," I thought to myself, a little too ecstatically.
Pictured Above: Between the East Side King food trailer and the Liberty bar sits an outdoor patio, equipped with one of Austin's greatest toilets--this ADA-compliant, wheelchair-friendly porta potty.
What better time to come across such a space! I was, after all, filming a show about folks living intentionally alternative lifestyles. This included a marketing manager shacking up in his converted tool shed and an executive director living in his backyard tipi. I wondered if anyone had tried making a living space out of a crapper.
I returned to my crew and reported my findings, though my enthusiasm was only politely received. Distracted with plenty more shooting that evening, I tabled the idea. But the concept stuck with me.
When I returned to Los Angeles, there was an upswell in news about the housing crisis. The homeless count revealed a surge in the numbers of folks on the streets. Our city's vehicular homeless population was through the roof. Article after article described the bleak state of the rental market, with more people struggling to meet the rising cost of housing in the city.
I wondered if there was anything I could do to help. I wrote some articles of my own. I volunteered with Pay It Forward for a Better LA to build a library at the Midnight Mission. I met with folks from Temple Leo Baeck interested in starting a safe parking program for vehicular dwellers. But there was a nagging feeling I could do more.
That's how the idea for the Tiny (Toilet) Home Project grew. I'd lived in some small places myself--my office, my truck, a converted barn. It seemed the solution to affordable living in an expensive place would be to compromise space. The tiny home movement was blowing up across the country. Why not here in Los Angeles? I asked my urban planner friend Michael and we discovered tiny homes were, in short, perfectly legal. Driving around the city, I saw plenty of available rental space. So why not use it to house affordable tiny homes?
I began talking with friends--with anyone who'd listen--about this idea to make a home out of a toilet. For the show I'd researched for countless hours about folks living in strange ways and places--grain silos and jetliners and dumpsters--and never had I come across anyone doing this with a porta potty. The world's first-ever porta potty tiny home. It seemed like the perfect way to raise awareness for this solution to the affordable housing crisis.
The project is an ambitious one. Some would say too ambitious. I want folks to think differently about living in a small space in a big, image-conscious city. I want landowners to get excited about putting their underutilized residential land to good use. I want students and young professionals and folks in the middle-class struggling with an emergency to consider tiny living as a path to financial renewal. I want policy-makers to embrace the use of underutilized residential space. I want developers to consider the benefits of urban micro-dwellings and funders to turn their attention to healthier, hands-on ways to engage our city's chronic homeless.
Is that too much to ask?
The project still has a long way to go, but I'm hopeful we can reach some of those in need with our solutions. But first, we have to prove it works. And before that, we have to build it.
Follow my team and I as we document our quest to make my dream a reality. This Project Diary portion of the site will contain updates just like this, with public journal entries, photographs, and videos of our progress. We'll be doing our best to keep it both informative and entertaining for you.
So stay tuned. And thank you for supporting this project.