The city is pushing ahead with a plan to build tiny houses for the homeless or nearly so, and to put those houses down some of its lower city laneways.

Hamilton city council's planning committee voted Tuesday to investigate building homes no larger than 425 square feet — about the size of three parking spaces — to ease the city's affordable housing crisis.

Such programs have worked in other cities, said Matthew Green, councillor for Ward 3 in the lower city. In Detroit and upstate New York, for example, tiny houses have proven a cost effective way to house people.

They won't solve the problem, Green said. But this will "allow us to explore them as part of the housing mix" at a time when tiny houses and downsizing are growing trends

And in a city where people are sleeping in tents in old industrial areas, he said, the situation calls for it.

"I've seen folks living in refugee camps," he said. "We have, a kilometre from this building, people living in situations that are as dire."

Madison

Occupy Madison has built a village of units that are about 99 square feet. (Occupy Madison)

The tiny house concept isn't a new one in Hamilton. Two local organizations — Good Shepherd and the Social Planning and Research Council (SPRC) — are working on an as-yet-unnamed project to build duplexes of tiny units for women in danger of homelessness. At their smallest, the units will be a little over 400 square feet.

Advocates say smaller units are more cost effective to build and maintain than high-rise buildings. And Hamilton has multiple laneway properties in its lower city.

In fact, the city is looking at how many laneway properties there are, and how they can use them for affordable housing. City staff will report back later this year on how to combine the two concepts.

Other areas across North America have tried tiny home projects too. In Madison, Wisc., for example, Occupy Madison built a tiny village with houses as small as 99 square feet. Its inhabitants are formerly homeless.

In Detroit, Cass Community Social Services is building as many as 25 tiny homes. Single people who earn at least $10,000 per year can apply to live there. Residents must also attend financial coaching classes and spend at least eight hours each month volunteering to help out the neighbourhood.

City council will vote whether to ratify the decision next Wednesday.