Eating Jell-O With Chopsticks

37 thoughts on “Eating Jell-O With Chopsticks”

  1. It strikes me how similar this process is to how favelas emerged in South America. Technically illegal settlement tolerated by the authorities due to their economic necessity, then becoming the normal way of life for a largely disenfranchised share of the citizenry.

  2. There are really two separate entities that control use in many communities, the city authorities and the HOAs. Both of them work against a lot of rational use of property of the sort described here. And Johnny does a good job of describing the barriers to change.

    In many communities, however, the HOAs are more problematic than the city zoning authorities. And in parts of the country it can be relatively hard to avoid HOAs in suburban areas as most never developments in the past 20 years have HOAs. In my own case, for example, I have a house that is perfectly set up for a stealth basement apartment. Two bedrooms, large full bath, and the previous owners installed a wet bar in the large basement living area with fridge, dishwasher, sink, counters, and cabinets. Since it is a daylight basement there is a deck and sliding patio door. All it would take is a $100 portable induction cooktop sitting on the counter to turn it into a full-blown 2-bedroom apartment with separate outside entrance. I’m pretty confident my city would not really care if I did so, they have a lot bigger concerns. The real problem is the HOA or more accurately, the few retired old ladies who walk the neighborhood every day on their own DIY neighborhood patrol noticing everything from the garbage cans not taken in on time to the wrong landscaping plants.

    Could we have avoided buying a home with an HOA? Yes, but it would have been tougher to find the same combination of convenient location, amenities, and house that we wanted. And we were busy enough with careers that I wasn’t interested in buying an older fixer-upper.

    One thing I am curious about and have never seen addressed anywhere is what happens when zoning laws and tenant rights come into conflict. What rights under state laws do tenants have if they happen to be renting in one of these down-low questionably illegal situations like an attic or basement or tiny home in the yard? Can a tenant in such a situation drag out the eviction for months and months? Especially with a complicit landlord? How would that play out? One arm of the government fining you for an illegal apartment while another arm of the government prohibits you from evicting the tenant?

    1. You outline why I refused to buy a home with an HOA quite well. I don’t care for the tyrannical oversight.

      1. The whole point of an HOA is to maintain a very specific kind of order. Anything productive (growing a veggie garden, conducting work in your home, etc) is verboten because it suggests the inhabitants of the development (gasp!) work rather than simply consume things magically with money generated elsewhere. It’s an insecure middle class thing. Shrug. I say leave them be and choose to live elsewhere if possible.

        1. We bought a townhome in a new HOA-controlled development a few years back. Ordinarily we never would have considered moving into such a situation, but the unit we bought was one of the models and the developer needed to get out of the project, so we practically stole the place. When we moved in, the HOA was just getting organized so my wife got on the board and I was later ‘officially designated’ as the common area ‘monitor’, so we had some ‘say’ in things beyond the ‘ordinary’ folks. We, along with a couple of other board-members were able to keep a lid on some of the ‘little old ladies’ objections to the lifestyles of other residents. We would never, ever, do it again though.

    2. Where I live in SE Wisconsin, it is impossible to build a new subdivision without an HOA. I have lived in the area for over 20 years, and it is really hard to find an existing home that isn’t part of an HOA. I have a friend who planned to do a development on his 46 acre property without an HOA (he’s quite libertarian), and the city and county development authorities would not approve anything without a covenant laden HOA to “maintain the quality” of the development. The restrictive home ownership environment comes from governmental bureaucrats and lawyers, not developers.

  3. I suspect the hardest part of about these adaptations for a lot of people isn’t the plumbing or windows. It’s learning to live with other people right next to you when you’re using to having your own McMansion.

    It’s hard and it doesn’t feel good. The adjustments can be made but it takes time. The facts are all there and the truth is that North Americans SHOULD push themselves to make the necessary changes. I agree. But it should be acknowledged that it’s a difficult move and feels like going backwards, the opposite of progress. Things will be good in the end if they down-size and share, but there are definitely ways in which it sucks at the moment.

    1. See my comment below regarding my cousin’s situation. In the end many people won’t have a choice. The question is – do you do these things ahead of the curve voluntarily, or do you wait for external circumstances to force your hand?

      1. I saw the cousin comment and I was actually thinking about them when I wrote mine. There’s no doubt in my mind that they made the wrong decision, but I do sympathize with them.

        I see both sides. They should adapt now – but it’s gonna hurt and with so many of these situations there’s no one to cushion the blow – or even provide a hanky and a shoulder before telling them it’s time to get on with it. It’s unfortunate. That’s all I’m saying.

    2. It strikes me how much of a mindset thing the whole roommate situation is. I have a friend in Alabama (where housing is apparently dirt cheap) who like can’t imagine living with a roommate and would sooner lose the house. Meanwhile here in California, (at least among the uh younger generations), people will think it’s odd that you’re paying for even an apartment by yourself. “Why don’t you just get a Craigslist roommate”? Granted people would prefer to avoid it but roommates are just an accepted fact of life.

      1. It comes down to expected norms and self selecting populations. If you can’t hold your head up high in church because you’ve lowered yourself to sharing your home for money…

        1. But the other part is, in cheaper places, there is always a move down available. And there is always someone ready to sell a house on contract when your credit or job history is damaged temporarily.

  4. Am I an unkempt person keeping an untidy home, or are these housing alternatives profiled on Granola Shotgun remarkably immaculate?

    1. Keeping things tidy is one of the key elements of any semi-stealth activity. Americans equate a pristine lawn and a new car with respectability. As soon as you start to dry your laundry on a clothes line and keep chickens you move into the category of tenement slum dwellers and hillbillies.

  5. So much can be done, discreetly. (A small edit for “He then arranged to camp discretely in the back of his workplace.” Discrete means individually separate and distinct. Discreet means careful and circumspect in one’s actions. Both are true of his work-week workaround, but I think you mean to emphasize that he is being careful and circumspect in his stay there.)

  6. I’m for common sense hustle and hacks at all levels. Clever people are finding all kinds of workable solution in smaller scale buildings. While folks come to IncDev workshops with ambitious projects on their minds we encourage them to take on a simple house hack as their first adventure(especially if this is going to be a side hustle).

      1. I believe the nexus between these two powerful currents in small development will involve the peppering of close in suburban neighborhoods with an adhoc layer of “meaning.”

        In my suburban neighborhood in Reno you could build preschools, cottage bakeries, small farms, a hospice, and all manner of private clubs and workshops in accessory structures. Single family zoning.

        This is sprawl repair. This is the future. Limited will be the midrise office liner buildings to fix our stroads that Gallina Tachieva describes.

        It’s going to be a humble folk exercise in creating meaningful mixed use spaces within the petrified confines of the suburban neighborhood as such with some neighbors delightfully surprised that they can enjoy such civility close to home and others kicking, screaming, biting, and clawing at the change that is coming.

    1. So much of this is cultural and emotional. In the immediate aftermath of the 2008 crash I had a long talk with a cousin and her husband who were in the process of losing their newly purchased five bedroom home to foreclosure. I walked them through the different ways they could create rental income from the portions of the house they didn’t need and weren’t even using (and certainly couldn’t afford.) They just couldn’t imagine taking on boarders or room mates. For them it was a matter of dignity and pride. They ultimately lost the place and have spent the last decade sharing a double wide with my elderly aunt. Is that better? Shrug.

  7. Funny, my first thought when reading the headline was, “Well, you can do it if you make Jello Jigglers.” And here you have a whole raft of people doing just that. Thanks for showing us ways other people are getting it done. Very inspirational. Thanks, Johnny!

  8. Redefining highest and best use from a community level to an individually driven perspective.

    Plenty of opps for the creative and motivated. Full steam ahead and ask forgiveness later, if need be.

    If all the platform companies can flout existing laws and norms with no penalty, why not the rest of us?

    1. I’m not advocating flouting laws. That’s a recipe for individuals to get in trouble with the authorities. The reason the platform companies get away with what they do is because they’re huge, have corporate lawyers and professional fixers, and billion dollar budgets to smooth over administrative friction.

      What I’m observing are situations where regular folks have some existing wiggle room that don’t technically break any rules. In most jurisdictions it’s perfectly legal for up to three unrelated people to share a single family home. If the inhabitants are related by blood, marriage, or adoption there are very few legal restrictions in most cases.

      The difference between an illegal apartment and a room mate with a private entrance and a kitchenette is often the existence of a real stove – but not a microwave and a fridge…

      1. “Flouting” is the exact opposite of what you’re describing in this column. Flouting means breaking laws in a deliberate fashion meant to be noticed. It’s defying the authorities and challenging them to enforce their laws. Even in a place where people and perhaps even authorities are more or less supportive of alternative arraignments, that’s likely to force a response.

        OTOH, doing what the folks you describe are doing – working to fit into the neighborhood even if they’re pushing boundaries a bit – that’s being a good neighbor. I’m going to do my thing, but I’m going to respect my neighbors by not imposing on their lives. Frankly it’s a skill a lot of people will need to get better at as the options to pay their way out of conflicts diminish.

  9. The first ring suburbs of most Midwestern cities have plenty of those 50s-60s 3br, 1.5bath, 1000-1200sf houses. I’m working on one now; much of it was original 1959. When it’s done it will sell for maybe $120K.

    While it’s possible to give it the full HGTV treatment, it’s not really cost effective to put stone counters and high end cabinets in the kitchen. It is possible to gain a little bathroom space, better closet layouts, and a more-open layout of the big rooms. The original oak floors are dog-stained but can be sanded and stained dark. Kitchen and laundry can get modern durable vinyl plank. Everything will get fresh paint and new fixtures.

    And a wise young family should appreciate a high efficiency HVAC system, a new water heater, updated wiring, new plumbing, tight new windows. Stuff they may not have to worry about for most of the years they will live there.

    The best part? The 24×36 garage with 100 amp panel. Wood or metal shop, home base for contractor, motor vehicle restoration, tiny-house fab shop, whatever. As long as the owners keep quiet when they need to.

    1. not really cost effective to put stone counters and high end cabinets in the kitchen.
      Stone counters in a small house: $1500 and a few hours worth of work.

      a high efficiency HVAC system: $5000
      updated wiring: $10,000 + weeks of renovation
      new plumbing:$10,000-$20,000 + weeks of repairs
      tight new windows: $300 per window + install costs

      And how much $$ return does new wiring have? Next to none, unless there is an obvious problem – same with all those others. People buying a house have the expectation that their electricity, windows, and plumbing will work, otherwise they just move on to another house. So that’s why people just slap in new countertops. The ‘HGTV treatment’ is the discounted option.

      1. I’ve built and renovated a number of homes over the years. I always prioritize insulation, pipes, wires, and the kinds of things that make a huge difference in comfort and long term efficiency. But those things don’t sell or add monetary value to a home. People prefer the superficial upgrades rather than functionality. But I do it anyway.

        1. It depends on both the listing agent and the prospective buyer. Some people will value the old house with new mechanicals especially if the updates are spelled out…especially the buyer thinking of running a business out of the garage.

  10. I ‘ve been thinking about renting out my house in some way, shape or form for some time.
    So these ideas and examples are super interesting, thanks.

    1. We, my City, attempts to make small scale housing possible through zoning, reduced impact fees and design help. Despite the challenge of meeting building codes, one can build simply. Arguably most important: allowing small-scale, mixed-use or just non-residential daily needs and employment buildings at key locations like collector/collector corners in otherwise SF blocks and neighborhoods, the real means to walking because of desired destinations.

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