Tiny Houses in Portland for Homeless

tiny-house-tiny-homeBy Andrew Theen

Compliments: The Oregonian

Portland is preparing to endorse the construction of communities of tiny houses on publicly owned land to get homeless people off the street and offer low-income residents safe, clean and cheap places to live.

Josh Alpert, Mayor Charlie Hales’ director of strategic initiatives said the question isn’t whether the so-called micro-communities will happen, but when.

Tiny houses offer a cheap and replicable method of trying to address the city’s nagging homelessness problem, Alpert said. “Let’s figure it out.”

Alpert said the city plans to ask TriMet, Portland Public Schools and Multnomah County to share their surplus land inventories to provide options for suitable sites. Hales’ office also has organized a task force to investigate the legal and zoning challenges of making the micro-communities a reality.

“Lets’ be bold,” Alpert said, saying that the city is partnering with Multnomah County to make the micro-community vision a reality. According to county officials, representatives from the mayor’s office and Chair Deborah Kafoury’s office met Monday and agreed to “put it on the front burner.”

“Before people can get back on their feet and take advantage of job training and drug and alcohol counseling, they need a place to live,” County Chairwoman Deborah Kafoury said Wednesday. “This helps accomplish that.”

The actions from City Hall are a strong signal that the city sees the tiny house concept as a small investment with potentially big returns — helping to get dozens of the more than 2,000 people sleeping outside on any given night off the streets.

The concept could also be part of the solution for Right 2 Dream Too, a homeless encampment that the city has struggled to relocate from its prominent home at the gate to Old Town/Chinatown.

The Portland Mercury first reported Hales’ interest Wednesday.

Alpert said lots of unknowns remain, including the city’s financial role, but he said few obstacles are in the way. He hopes the first micro-community can be in place by February 2015.

Portland is already home to a growing tiny house movement catering largely to the young and the hip. Few options exist for residents living on the fringe. But earlier this year, a Portland housing advocate teamed with a metro area company to start pushing for what the partners say is a cheap and eminently doable idea.

Their plan calls for 25 housing units on a given property, with additional buildings for laundry, administrative offices and others services. The buildings would be roughly 16 feet by 12 feet, or 192 square feet total, and cost $250 to $350 per month to rent.


The prototype is engineered by TECHDWELL, a Sherwood-based company.

Mike Withey, a Portland housing advocate and executive director of the nonprofit Micro Community Concepts, teamed with the TECHDWELL founders to push the idea.

Alpert said Hales became “infatuated” with the idea after Withey testified before the City Council in June.

Portland and Multnomah County officials have already begun conversations with TECHDWELL.

Withey said his nonprofit and TECHDWELL are excited the city is moving ahead.

“If they want us to take the reins and run,” Withey said, “that’s fine.”

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