With Boxed Haus’ tiny homes, Todd Clayton has big dreams for Santa Cruz housing
By Brad Oates
In 2016, Todd Clayton received an ambitious request: a friend asked the Stanford University maintenance worker to build him a tiny home. Clayton had worked in construction for 20 years and was a skilled journeyman-level carpenter, but he’d never attempted to build an entire—albeit small—home. Undaunted, the Chicago native and eight-year resident of Scotts Valley got to work, building in his driveway on nights and weekends for almost two years. He used a shipping container as the frame because, as he puts it, “they are strong and will last forever.”
The result was beautiful: a rooftop deck, energy-efficient appliances, composting toilet and solar panel connections, all in a mere 450 square feet.
Ultimately, the friend didn’t need the home after all, so Clayton sold it to a real estate agent who was interested in tiny homes. “Then it was on TV [HGTV’s Tiny House Hunters], then it got one million hits on YouTube, so I sold a couple more and I am in the process of building those,” Clayton says of how the endeavor, dubbed Boxed Haus, has snowballed. He hopes to quit his day job in the Stanford maintenance department to focus on the fledgling company full time.
With Santa Cruz County now ranked as the third least affordable place to live in the United States, according to Forbes, and with the median home price exceeding $900,000, as reported in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Clayton’s timing couldn’t be better: he is acutely aware of the housing problems gripping Santa Cruz County, and thinks Boxed Haus—with a going rate of around $80,000 per home—has the potential to help alleviate some of the pressure. He describes himself as a “regular dude in the world trying to solve the affordable housing crisis.”
With a keen eye for detail and aesthetic, the small living environments Clayton creates feel larger and more inviting than they appear from the exterior. “People need less stuff, people need less house,” states Clayton. “You need enough room for a laptop, clothes, cell phone and that’s about it. Efficiency living is a bigger thing that’s coming up.”
However, one cannot simply buy land and start building the tiny house of his or her dreams: While interest in small-footprint living is growing, zoning laws have not kept up with that demand.
“I can almost equate it to the marijuana industry,” explains Clayton. “It was forbidden for a long time and now it’s mainstream.”
Locally, there is an option that avoids some of the obstacles. Through the City of Santa Cruz’s Accessory Dwelling Unit Development Program, homeowners with lot sizes greater than 5,000 square feet can get permitted to put a tiny home in their own backyard.
“[Say] you want an accessory-dwelling unit, but you don’t want to go through the hassle of nine months to a year of people walking into your yard as a construction site,” he says. “We can cut that time down by 90 percent by building offsite and then putting it together in your backyard.”
According to city data, there are more than 18,000 single-family lots in the City of Santa Cruz. Clayton sees great potential for the tiny home movement locally. And with that vision on his horizon, he’s back to work, spending long nights and weekends in his driveway—one man in Scotts Valley, doing his part, one stylish little box home at a time.