AUSTIIN - "Professor Dumpster" had just led a tour of his 352-square-foot house when the inevitable question arose: Who would be willing to plunk down $139,000 for a state-of-the-art home that small?
Jeff Wilson, a former environmental science professor who gained that moniker after living a year in a 33-square-foot dumpster here, launches into an impassioned spiel.
"We've been doing housing wrong for decades," says Wilson, who first turned his dumpster into a sustainable home in early 2014. "We are in a housing catastrophe... the Sears home catalog was the last big innovation" more than a century ago.
After his residency in a literal dump, Wilson started Kasita (casita means "tiny house" in Spanish), a designer of mobile, modular homes that are stackable. The pre-fabricated homes can be constructed in three weeks — and could go a long way toward easing the affordable housing crunch that has bedeviled much of the country.
With the help of former employees at Google, Elon Musk's SolarCity and Bell Helicopter, Wilson thinks he has a solution to provide homes and stackable apartments in unused pieces of land such as vacant parking lots. "If you file for a backyard unit, it can be approved in weeks," says Wilson, who predicts his homes could hit the market this summer.
"We need to find cracks in the system rather than take a sledgehammer to it," he says.
If the reaction of consumers at Kasita's recent party at SXSW is any indication, interest is high. Hundreds patiently waited in line to get a peek at the modular home, which features a bathroom/shower, kitchen, bedroom and living room patio.
A remote control allows dwellers to quickly change mood lighting and an entertainment system. Date mode finds Marvin Gaye's smooth voice filling the small living area. Storage space is built into steps, walls and other nooks and crannies.
The 21-person start-up, based here, is not only espousing the mantra that small is beautiful, but it can be environmental and profitable. Wilson says several mayors are interested in the homes, and he intends to visit California to make his pitch this month.
"Green is the new black," Wilson says.
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