High density housing - it's the Government's answer to unaffordable housing and urban sprawl in New Zealand's cities.

The words might bring to mind cramped sections with high fences or big apartment buildings.

But imagine if high density didn't have to mean big or cramped. Imagine if it meant tiny.

Tiny dreams

Two Mount Maunganui woman want to create New Zealand's first tiny house village in Tauranga.

Bobbie Cornell is a Kiwi-born architect who worked in Hong Kong and China before settling in Tauranga. She turned to tiny houses as a way to put a roof over her kids' heads without a lifelong mortgage.

Melissa Cox was burned in the collapse of the United States housing market in 2008. She and her husband bought a house nine months before the bubble burst. They stuck it out for eight years before selling at a big loss and moving to New Zealand.

"I won't make the same mistake twice," she said.

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The women met through a tiny house Facebook group. They started imagining a village of beautiful little houses where people shared resources and a common sense of community - enjoying less stuff and more life - in the city they love.

Rebecca Bartlett of Tiny House Builders said she could have sold her 21sqm showhome
Rebecca Bartlett of Tiny House Builders said she could have sold her 21sqm showhome "four or five times over" at the recent Tauranga Home Show. Photo/supplied
What is a tiny house?

Definitions vary. For the village, it could be anything from a 17sq m house on (if allowed by council) a trailer, to a permanently-sited granny flat up to 59sq m. Mrs Cox and Ms Cornell hope for a mix of houses to suit people of all ages and life stages.

"Small doesn't mean cheaply made, or cramped, or unattractive, or a lack of privacy. We're going to be the cutest little village you've ever seen," Mrs Cox said.

They said the dwellings would essentially look like little houses - so house trucks, housebuses and caravans wouldn't fit the bill.

Built to building code and designed for permanent living, the tiny houses would have double glazing, wall and floor insulation, kitchens, bathrooms. They could be made to connect to local services, or be off-grid.

Inside a tiny house, space is used more efficiently than in a regular house. Think multi-functional furniture, fold-out dining tables and couches with internal storage.

Rebecca Bartlett of Tiny House Builders, which has a workshop in Katikati, said she had huge interest in her showhome at the recent Tauranga Home Show.

"I could have sold it four or five times over."

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The 21sq m showhome on a 3x7m trailer is fully insulated, and features two-bedroom lofts, a 900sq m shower and a kitchen with all the usual amenities.

"A tiny house will be warmer and cosier and drier than any house you've ever been in," she said.

Rebecca Bartlett of Tiny House Builders said she could have sold her 21sqm showhome
Rebecca Bartlett of Tiny House Builders said she could have sold her 21sqm showhome "four or five times over" at the recent Tauranga Home Show. Photo/supplied
Finding the village

A meeting of tiny house enthusiasts in Tauranga early this year had standing room only, Mrs Cox said.

Students, young couples, families, immigrants, widows - people from diverse walks of life were interested in living smaller, more collaboratively and escaping Tauranga's high house prices.

Te Puna man Leo Murray, who is midway through building his tiny house, supports the village idea as a way to build a more connected and resilient community.

"When people share and collaborate the fabric of community always seems to weave together more tightly," he said.

"Tiny houses speak to the fact that people are not consumption machines, and can live their lives without spending 25 to 30 years paying off a mortgage."

To Mrs Cox and Ms Cornell, there was an obvious need for alternative housing. They started talking to both the Tauranga District Council and Western Bay District Council.

Staff and elected members from both councils had been "wonderful" and very receptive to the idea, they said.

Tauranga deputy mayor Kelvin Clout was keen to explore the idea, and organised for the woman to speak at a meeting of interested councillors and staff.

A tiny house village could be a realistic alternative to the traditional housing market, or a way to get on the housing ladder, he said.

It would also help the council meet Government housing targets.


City plan obstacles

Cr Clout said the first obstacle was the city plan requirement of a minimum lot size of 325sq m per dwelling in most areas of the city. Mrs Cox and Ms Cornell wanted to allow 150-200sq m per 17-59sq m tiny house, starting with a dozen or so houses.

The second obstruction was that tiny houses on wheels were classed as caravans, meaning they couldn't be used as permanent homes.

"Both obstacles require a city plan change," Cr Clout said.

"When we do a city plan change there is a lot of consulting. People are going to say 'not in my backyard'," he said. The council would have to balance those perspectives.

Cr Clout said past plan changes had taken one to two years, but Special Housing Area legislation could move things along faster.


Searching for land

For planning to properly begin, they need land.

Rural land was available, but largely ruled out due to, among other things, the extensive development requirements and roading burden.

For Mrs Cox and Ms Cornell, a minimum 2000sq m residentially-zoned site in walking distance to schools and amenities was the dream.

It couldn't have the restrictive covenants present on a lot of developer land in Tauranga, and had to be affordable to lease long-term or buy.

Cr Clout said the council was looking into council-owned land that could be leased for a village - ideally somewhere without sensitive neighbours.

"It needs to be clear that this will not be like a commune. They are keen to become part of the local community, enriching it," he said.

"We are not going to be a dirty crowded commune," Mrs Cox said. "We will have rules, we will have aesthetic guidelines and we will have self-government and community outreach. We're going to be great neighbours.

"We are happy that the councils are working with us. It's going to be adorable and sustainable, but we need the land."