Oregon-based Opportunity Village Eugene addresses homelessness with tiny houses

Here's the problem: A range of factors can contribute to people becoming homeless, including economic downturns, rising costs of housing, cuts to Social Security and health care, and personal circumstances like a health crisis and relationship breakdowns. People who find themselves homeless can be vulnerable, especially at night. The city of Eugene, Oregon, has a population of approximately 160,000 with an estimated homeless population of 3,000.

 Activating the Urban Commons

Here's how one organization is working on the problem: Opportunity Village Eugene (OVE) is a "tiny house" community in Eugene, Oregon, that provides secure accommodation for around 35 people who were previously homeless. OVE provides residents with more than just affordable shelter — being part of the village offers the dignity of having a private space and access to a shared laundromat, kitchen, bathroom, and workshop. Residents also receive quarterly bus passes and have access to computers and Wi-Fi to help bridge mobility and digital divides.

The community requires some reciprocity from its members. Residents contribute $30, help with cleaning and maintenance, and participate in managing the community. OVE has a no drug or alcohol use policy, which means that, while the space does create a safe community for residents, it excludes homeless people who are struggling with substance abuse.

There is no limit to how long someone can stay at OVE. However, residents are encouraged to develop their personal plan for moving to more permanent accommodation, finding work, or whatever their path forward entails.

While OVE is not a panacea for homelessness, it is a working model that can be replicated to support people who need housing immediately and give them breathing room to transition into more permanent housing. The willingness of the local authority to support the OVE project has been a key factor in its success, for two reasons in particular:

  • The city gave the project a plot of land and a 12-month lease, which they subsequently voted unanimously to extend for two more years.
  • None of the tiny homes met the city's code for a dwelling or a residence, but they were given an exemption after a safety inspection.

Results:

  • OVE has provided housing for more than 90 people since it was established in 2013.
  • In the organization’s report to the city on their first-year pilot, OVE's board revealed that the entire project of 30 dwellings and amenities was delivered with $100,000 cash and an equivalent amount of materials and other in-kind support. The upfront cost of providing a bed for a night was $12; however, as OVE’s initiator, urban planner Andrew Hebden noted that "if you amortize the construction cost over five years, assume the same operating costs as our last quarter for the remaining four years, the cost of operating the village comes to less than $3/bed/night. In other words, for less than $3/night, we are providing safe and decent shelter for 35 members of our community."

Learn more from:

This case study is adapted from our latest book, "Sharing Cities: Activating the Urban Commons." Get a copy today.

Header image courtesy of Square One Villages
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