With more than $300,000 and volunteer homeowners, Multnomah County has a new idea to fight homelessness: Build tiny houses in people’s backyards and rent them out to families with children now living on the street. The homeowners would pay nothing for the construction. They would become landlords and maintain the units for homeless families for five years.
Then the tiny houses would become theirs to do with what they want. If the homeowners break the contract before then, they pay the cost of construction.
The project would put the 8-month-old joint homeless office – a shared effort between the county and Portland — in the housing business while offering an innovative, if so far small-scale, way to chip away at Portland’s affordable housing shortage.
Four tiny houses are tentatively scheduled to launch this June at $75,000 apiece, with the hope for up to 300 accessory dwelling units as they’re known in the next year if the first ones work out.
The Multnomah County Idea Lab, a 2-year-old office focused on using out-of-the-box thinking to create public policy, combined tactics of the Federal Emergency Management Agency with a county weatherization program to come up with the plan.
The tiny houses would help fill the need for low-income housing before the recently passed Portland housing bond and private developers can build the 24,000 units that studies say the city needs to stem its housing crisis.
“Those units are not going to come on line for another two to three years and they’re really expensive to build in some cases,” said lab director Mary Li. “We have people on the street now.”
Supporters hope to be able to reduce the cost per house if the project expands, but the price tag is still cheaper than government-funded shelter beds per year. A family of four costs $32,000 a year to house and help in a shelter.