BEHIND THE FESTIVAL: How one man is bringing a 'tiny' American Dream to ENC

PINK HILL, NC (WITN) - Tiny houses have captured the attention of people across the country as they've become the focus of tv shows and inspired an entire new segment of housing options up for rent on websites like AirBNB. One Eastern Carolina man says modern alternative housing options -- like 'tiny houses' -- are signs of a much greater change.

6,000 people flooded the streets of Pink Hill this past spring for the first ever TinyHouseNC Street Festival in April.

Festival Founder, Andrew Odom, had know idea so many people would come to get an up close look at tiny living.

"We ended up with 17 tiny houses on display and that included everything from traditional tiny houses on wheels, which, I use the word 'traditional' very lightly, all the way up to school bus conversions and some do-it-yourself sort of mobile home unit type things ..." Odom said.

As large crowds looked upon tiny houses, Odom hoped a new American Dream would materialize for people in Eastern Carolina; a new dream with less debt, fewer physical possessions and more freedom to do an experience the things that make life worth living.

"It's a form of renovation, salvation and sustainability and that's what non-traditional housing is all about," he said. "I think half the people came and were like 'yeah, I couldn't do this' and then I think the other half were people who really saw a place where tiny houses could fit in their communities to help things."

Odom first became interested in this alternative 'American Dream' in 2010, just after the housing market had burst and the outlook for home ownership was bleak for he and his new wife.

"I started seeing tiny houses not just as kind of this neat little thing that now people see on tv, but as a knee jerk reaction to what had happened in the real estate market and how people could save themselves financially from getting in over their heads again...whether or not people are still seeing it as that, I can't say, but that's still where my passion is ... redefining the american architectural landscape," he said.

They built their own tiny home on his family's farm in Georgia.

"So, our tiny house really just became a place to eat and sleep, everything else...the world was our living room, we were able to travel more, we were able to invest in life around us more, visit with family more, it made sense for our lives at that point," he says.

Odom describes the nationwide tiny house movement as an "American Renaissance."

"It's very much a Renaissance, it's a Renaissance of how Americans live their lives," he said. "Now we're seeing people, especially younger people, who are boomeranging back...who are saying 'you know what, I don't want to work 80 hours a week, I don't care if I have a boat, if I want a boat I'll rent a boat for the weekend.'

Before launching the street festival, Odom had already started a non-profit advocacy group called TinyHouseNC in 2014 with the goal of advocating for and educating on all kinds of alternative housing options.

"So, that's everything from living on a boat on the coast all the way to living in like a ramshackle cabin in the western side of the state and everything in between," he says.

Odom says that in many ways, advocates and legislators are still working out exactly where 'tiny living' fits in with modern society. Many states have their own housing codes and permitting requirements, and it is a sort of gray area where tiny houses go, because they aren't exactly a house but they aren't exactly campers or RV's.

Odom explains that they very much are a tiny mobile house in the way they're built.

"When you build a tiny house, it's framed up and build just like a regular sticks and bricks house is, so there's no cutting corners, you don't use 2x3's instead of 2x4's, you build 16 inch on center, it's standard R-13 or R-19 insulation, so when we lived in one, it very much was a house that just happened to be fastened to a trailer," he says. He also says that most of the interior for tiny homes is custom made to fit the home's exact dimensions.

In some areas of the country, tiny home communities are popping up at old RV parks or similiar places with electric and sewer infrastructure already set up for a tiny community. If zoning allows, some people purchase small plots of land and park their tiny homes there.

If you're interested in learning more or seeing some of these tiny homes in person, the 2nd annual TinyHouseNC Street Festival is being planned for April 27-29, 2018 in Pink Hill.

You can also learn more at Odom's TinyHouseNC website, which is linked for you under 'related links' with this article.