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Tiny houses

Tiny HousesWith 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.


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  • LM

    The only way it can work is if the homeless tenants are selected and screened for their potential for “success” as tenants and insuring their rehab….. but being a government program I suspect that all the PC equal opportunity bullshit rules will apply. This “rental” approach is not the same as the open homeless shelter with its welcome to all who show up in that organized environment. There are many shelter options out there, public and private, for homeless to get help and shelter and food. Most of them do not go to the shelters….. or slide in and out for meal time or to crash when it is cold outside. Data indicate that many or most are mental cases who need professional help and it is difficult to lasso them into such helping institutions. We have no solution to that in a free society. How are they going to select/approve tenants for the backyard cottages? My daughters at their churches’ shelters work with their shelters for the homeless. Down and out unfortunates are helped with shelter, food, guidance (sometimes are abandoned wives and kids, or homeless and isolated/abandoned guys who lost jobs and are broke and are broken spirits, etc.). There are some who are utterly unmanageable, zonked out, un-helpable and need institutionalization, some are a step away from being arrested and tried….. incorrigibles that can’t be helped. I met one of the middle age guys that was helped at the shelter, get clean (history of either booze or drugs, I don’t remember) get employed, his own apartment or room to rent, etc. She invited him to one of our family gatherings for some minor holiday and he was a really nice guy and grateful. Turns out he is a carpenter and wood carver and is finding enough work and staying clean, got a decent motor scooter for mobility. She checks in with him to monitor how he is doing.

    The government who has been unable to get the homeless into shelters, get them true help and guidance, or if necessary get into jails if they are committing serious crimes daily, now says they will finance and assign homeless as “tenants” in private neighborhood backyard outhouse apartments of 200 SF for a family of 4 (!) and that will solve the problem of getting the homeless transitioning back into society for independent living and efficacy? The article did not reference assistance to be given (imposed?) other than the housing program. What’s that going to be?….. required? I don’t think we want to see what the back yards will look like after a few people have been living in their little outhouse (by the way, in residential neighborhoods, the government has to abandon their zoning and certificate of occupancy regs to make this backyard outhouse cottage happen).

    You say, ”maybe” it will work ….. But I suspect that many or most of the landlords will rue the day they joined the program and volunteered their back yards. I think that charitable and caring citizens would do better to support their churches and cities’ shelter activities, with some dough and/or their volunteer services. The incorrigibles?…..I don’t know what to do with them.

  • My wife who is a tiny house expert as she is fascinated with the concept of low cost small homes for her unmarried son. She priced some around here at a manufacturer and they want around $100K each. They are on wheels and transportable king of like a large mobile home would be. She did not think that this concept would work because of the same problems that all public housing has: the tenants rip the screen doors off and trash the place because they have no interest in maintaining something they do not or ever will own I think that the reason there are homeless people is they have either had the worst run of bad luck possible and are temporarily nomads, they are mentally ill (PTSD vets), or just do not want to have a permanent residence because they enjoy living like they do. I remember growing up in Miami, the mayor and city council were swamped in the Winter time with homeless and came up with a scheme to send them north with a few dollars and a one way bus ticket. Media and bleeding hearts made it short lived idea. Don’t understand how homeless are going to come up with rent for a tiny house. Devil is always in the details.

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