By David Chen - ABC Southern Queensland June 2021
The future tradie's gaming console and couch might one day reside in a tiny house, like the one being built from scratch in a training program run by Toowomba-based not-for-profit, DGT Training and Employment.
"It's portable, its useful, you can store things in it, you can use it as second kitchen, second bedroom, back room for gaming, there's many different uses."
DGT CEO Kris McCue said he believed tiny homes could not only train the next generation of tradies but could also provide a short-term solution to regional Australia's housing and skills shortages.
"Rental vacancies are below 1 per cent in many, many areas — things like a tiny home can be a good, you know, shorter-term solution for that," he said.
"Also, young people moving out [for] their first time – it might not be achievable in this market, but putting a tiny home on the back of a block of their parents' home could essentially give people their own independence.
"I guess the ultimate thing for me would be for someone to participate in a training program to build a tiny home to get a job … and then to live in a tiny home that they'd built.
"I think that would be the ultimate."
New training model
It is the first time the not-for-profit organisation had used a tiny house as a training tool, giving students the experience of building a whole house.
"We can actually get one done within the timeframe of a training program," Mr McCue said.
"A student can be involved from the ground up, as opposed to maybe getting some work experience for a few weeks with a builder.
"This gives them the whole experience for a whole house, albeit a tiny one."
Mr McCue said the idea to use a tiny house as a training model came due to DGT's work with local charities.
"They alerted us to the fact that there was this issue around youth homelessness," he said.
"So, we thought the best way for us to be able to contribute to that, would be to build something like a tiny home, [which will] … contribute to addressing issues [such as] youth homelessness and advance the skills and employability of our students."
Mr McCue said that, while a tiny house could be built commercially within four weeks, it would take trainees between 12 to 16 weeks to complete as they learned new skills.
"Cost-wise, it depends on the configuration and fit-out, but [a tiny house would cost] somewhere between $12,000 to $30,000."
Mr McCue said that, with the current skills shortage in the construction industry, trainees who had experience in several different trades would be more valuable to employers.
"Just having that much-more-rounded skillset when they come out of training, as opposed to, 'We've used some tools, and we know one end of end of 4 x 2 from the other'," he said.
"And we have situations where students might come and think, 'I want to be a carpenter', then come and do something like a tiny home and realise [they have also] had some experience with plumbing or painting or cladding or roofing."
Mr Mareng said he was excited to learn new building skills.
"I want to learn how they put up doors or windows," he said.
"I've never been in the process of doing that. I've done cementing. I've done work with wood before, but never a proper house."
Mr McCue said the tiny homes concept had gained significance in Australia and he said he believed it could help support the homeless in Toowoomba.
"Tiny homes are something that can be relocated. They can be sold. They're an asset that someone can actually buy and, potentially, appreciate in value," Mr McCue said.
"For us, it's just more broadly about contributing to the skills base of Toowoomba and [the] other regions that we're operating in.
"But we're also contributing more broadly to solutions for housing and homelessness across the across the state."
The concept has also gained support through a petition calling for tiny home villages to be set up in Toowoomba.
That petition's author, Ellisa Parker, said it had received more than 17,000 signatures.
The Toowoomba resident said she had started the petition after reading countless stories about the lack of housing across the country.
"It's a relatively new concept for Australia … the movement is growing," Ms Parker said.
"My vision would be we tackle this immediate homelessness in our city, and then these particular pods could be utilised, maybe for migrant workers, where housing doesn't exist in our regional areas at the moment."
Ms Parker said while the response to her petition had been mainly positive, there were concerns about whether the idea would lead to ghettos.
"I agree, that is not the type of environment we want to establish in our city," she said.
"This is why we're connecting with service providers that have already established these to see how they manage those particular challenges, so that we can avoid that."
Ms Parker said the greatest challenge facing the tiny home movement was council planning regulations.
"Our local laws don't adequately cover tiny homes as a housing option. They are classified as caravans," she said.
"If you want to live in a caravan on a block of land, you need to get a temporary housing permit and you can only get that if you have a development application for a bricks and mortar style house, so that's the challenge at the moment."
For Kris McCue, he hopes DGT's designs can help overcome planning issues with local councils.
"We're trying to reduce that complexity as much as possible, by making them fit within those specifications that mean, you don't need building permits, you don't need engineering permits, and those sorts of things,"
Mr McCue said.
DGT said the tiny house currently being built would be donated to a local charity.