Eugene plans big for tiny homes

Public-private partnership seeks solution to homelessness

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Anna C.K. Smith / The Torch
One tiny house in the new Railroad Street community has a view overlooking the entire community from a second story deck. The deck also serves as the overhang for the front door and is accessible through a large window.

The City of Eugene’s 2016 plan to create 600 new dwellings in the next five years to help the people who are without shelter is underway. In the 2017 Eugene Point in Time count, a one-night census of the homeless, there were over 1,500 homeless people. Of those 1,003 were without shelter and many of them were families with children.  

The dwellings will be divided between a variety of apartment complexes for various individuals and include tiny house villages. According to Eugene Housing and Community Service Agency Director Jacob Fox,“The goal of creating 600 units is part of Lane County’s Poverty and Homelessness Board’s Strategic Plan.”

Eugene, like Portland and Clackamas, is one of the many cities in the U.S. with tiny house villages designated for temporarily and chronically homeless individuals and families. The villages are an offshoot of the Housing First model, which addresses homelessness by prioritizing the independence of its residents. The idea is to provide housing first and offer services later.

Lane County has one completed project called Opportunity Village, one in the works called Emerald Village and plans for another in Cottage Grove called Cottage Village.

Anna C.K. Smith / The Torch
Gabe Casteel works on the fascia of an incomplete tiny house. Casteel is a part of a group of community members helping create alternative community living spaces for the homeless.

All of the villages are projects of Square One, a nonprofit organization that creates self-managed communities of low-cost tiny homes. Emerald is a permanent village whereas Opportunity Village is for temporary residents with 29 units that can host as many as 35 people at one time.

Gibb Hayes, a retired hairstylist, is one of the four residents living in the Emerald community. Before living there, Hayes lived in an RV without heat and before that at Opportunity Village.

“It’s been wonderful, I love it,” Hayes said about his time at Emerald.

Plans for the village include a community garden, a building with a community kitchen and meeting area, a bike corral and an outdoor movie screen.

“It will be good for the community to come together to watch movies,” Hayes said.

Julian Reese and Samantha Rehder are the village caretakers. Rehder, a 2016 graduate of Lane Community College, had once been homeless. After her time at Lane, both she and Julian lived in a tent community prior to moving into Emerald.

“Living here has increased our feeling of self-worth, our self-esteem and taken away the stigma of being homeless,” Reese said. “Being the caretakers has helped us feel trusted and useful again.”

There will be 22 total homes each with a living and sleeping area, kitchenette and bathroom.

“The selection process is quite extensive including a series of questions that are geared to evaluate personality and character. Then there is a 90-day probation period,” Rehder said.

The homes range in price from $250 to $350 per month all inclusive and $50 of that goes towards the share they will have in the community co-op. Each resident is also expected to help keep the area clean and work in the community 10 hours a month.

The funds for the village were donated by a variety of organizations and individuals, and many people from around the area have volunteered to work on the homes.

“If anyone would like to volunteer they can sign up on the Square One website,” Project Manager Andrew Heben said.

Emerald Village is set to be completed in the spring or summer of 2018. “With so much volunteer labor and donated design and construction it is hard to know the exact time the build teams will be done,” Square One’s Project Coordinator Alicia Ginsberg said.  “We are hoping to have an opening in the late spring or early summer.”