Sunday, December 29, 2013

Occupy Madison Build

Betty Ybarra moved into the first tiny house built by Occupy Madison (OM) Build this week.  Previously living in a tent, the 98 square foot structure is built on a trailer and includes a living space, bathroom, and kitchenette with a material cost of around $5,000.  This work by OM Build provided Ybarra with her first experience in home ownership.  But they still face a major hurdle.  Local regulations require that this tiny house, registered as an RV, move every two days.

Photo courtesy of OM Build

Similar to Opportunity Village Eugene, OM Build is a pragmatic, citizen-driven approach to housing the unhoused that has transpired since the Occupy movement of 2011.  While the movement began as an effort to draw attention to large-scale corporate greed at the national level, in Eugene, Madison, and several other cities, the protest camps quickly took on a new, local dimension after providing a safe place to be for the city's homeless population.  The projects overlap in many ways, and we had a chance to meet a few of the organizers and builders when they visited the village here in Eugene this past month.  With two structures completed thus far, their vision is to find land on which they can site a community of these affordable, tiny houses.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Development at Opportunity Village

The village has been open for three months now and we are currently housing 27 people in 22 units.  This citizen-driven initiative has all been done for under $70,000 with no government funding.  That deserves a big thanks to the generosity of our local community here in Eugene, Oregon!

I thought I would provide a little tour of some of the development that has been going on:

The Front Office just inside the gate, which is self-managed
by the villagers.  
A conestoga huts with one of our first residents just before
transitioning to more permanent housing.

A completed 8'x8' bungalow.
The micro-BathHouse under construction, which will
include two toilets, two sinks, a shower, water heater,
and washer and dryer - all in 112 sq. ft.
We built a 30' wide yurt for meetings and events.

...and it has heat!  Some villagers and volunteers enjoying
the warmth from our newly installed pellet stove

We're getting there...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

California's SB 2

There is growing support in cities throughout California for sanctioning legal tent cities and transitional villages for the unhoused, similar to the ones discussed on this blog.

After delving into ORS 446.265 here in Oregon, I have become more interested in unique state and local regulations that can be utilized for sanctioning legal tent cities and transitional villages for the unhoused, similar to the ones discussed on this blog. I've also been witnessing growing support for this kind of development in cities throughout California, so wanted to dig a little deeper into the potential there.

California's Housing Accountability Act, commonly referred to as the "anti-NIMBY law," prohibits cities from rejecting a housing development if the site is identified in local zoning and general plans for residential use at the proposed density, or if there is a failure to to accommodate the city's fair share of housing for all income groups.  While it is commonly thought of as a tool for promoting affordable housing, SB 2 adds emergency, transitional, and supportive shelter to the uses protected under this act.

SB 2, passed in 2007, "ensures that zoning encourages and facilitates emergency shelters and limits the denial of emergency shelters and transitional and supportive housing under the Housing Accountability Act." This means that cities must zone for emergency needs, and if someone comes forward and shows those needs aren’t met, then citizens have a right to set up an emergency site.

More specifically it requires the following:

Monday, November 25, 2013

Humboldt County Visitors

A primary goal of Opportunity Village is to provide precedence to other cities facing a similar, seemingly intractable dilemma - a growing homeless population coinciding with significant cuts to government funding of social services.  Open now for just under three months, the project has already attracted visitors from throughout Oregon and California, and as far as Madison Wisconsin.

Recently, a group of advocates from Humboldt County visited to learn more.  They filmed their tour of the village and also, upon their return, they hosted a radio program on Redwood Community Radio where we discuss the building of the village.

Redwood Community Radio Program: Listen

Opportunity Village Tour: Watch

Monday, October 7, 2013

Local "Rest Stop" Ordinance

A new rest stop ordinance in Eugene, Oregon that:

*   Limits a site to 15 people
*   Requires that a site be owned (or leased) by the City, a religious institution, a non-profit, or a business
*   Prohibits locating a site in a residential area or near a school
*   Limits sites to those approved by Council (by motion)
*   Requires supervision of the site by someone other than the City and at no cost to the City
*   Requires an entity other than the City – and at no cost to the City – to deal with trash and provide a portable toilet
*   Authorize – but not require – the Council to approve additional sites if the first site is working well.  No new ordinances would be needed to authorize additional sites; instead, the City Manager would be able to recommend one or more additional sites, and the Council could approve one of more of those sites by motion.  The attached ordinance would leave the decision as to whether there are any additional sites in the hands of the Council, but the approval process would be simplified by allowing the Council to approve the site with a motion.
*   Authorize – but again not require – the City Manager to permit (as part of a site agreement) a “host”; to allow people to leave belongings at the site during the day; and to allow people to remain on the site beyond the 9 pm to 7 am time period.  This flexibility would enable the City to try something at a site, and then quickly change what is allowed beyond the “rest-stop” characteristics originally contained in the Council’s motion (i.e., remove all belongings, vacate by 7 am., etc.) depending on how well things are working.
*   Authorize the City Manager to include in the site agreement other provisions to address issues that may come up as we gain experience with the pilot project, including provisions that would reduce potential liability for the City.

Recent OVE Coverage

A lot going on here in Eugene, Oregon...

Global Urbanist Article - "Opportunity Village: For and by the Homeless"

NPR story - "Opportunity Village: Eugene's Newest Gated Community"

Grand Opening for Opportunity Village

Friday, September 6, 2013

Opportunity Village: Up and Running

The village is up and running with the first dozen residents moved in.  Village residents, generous volunteers, and skilled builders have worked together to build seven dwellings so far (5 bungalows and 2 conestogas).  Some initial villagers are still in tents until the next few can get built.  There was also a front office built at the gate that is currently being staffed and managed by residents and volunteers.  A 20'x20' covered area has been erected to accommodate initial shared meals and village meetings.  To finish phase 1 of the plan, seven more dwellings will soon be built or moved to the village along with a food storage pantry that will eventually evolve into a full functioning indoor/outdoor kitchen.

The village will eventually grow to as many as 45 residents in up to 30 dwellings, but we are starting with a core group of residents who have been meeting twice a week during the months leading up to the opening of the village.  The core group started at 17 members and was wittled down to 12 for various reasons, with 2 finding more permanent housing before the village even opened.  This process allowed for the creation a social foundation for the village prior to opening.

See more photos of the first Big Build at Opportunity Village.  In just 8 hours, we built 5 micro-homes, 10 raised garden beds, and dug a 200 ft. trench at 2 ft. deep to run our water line.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Friday, August 16, 2013

On Building a Transitional Village

Today we received a key to one acre of city-owned land.  It was the ground breaking ceremony for Opportunity Village – a moving and surreal event.  A ribbon was cut, speeches were given, and housing materials were hauled in from our shop.  I’ve never put so much energy into a single project before, and it feels good to follow through on something and see it unfold.  This village has been nurtured for over a year now, but today it became clear it was ready to bloom.  It’s an idea whose time has come. 

We are at the end of a long road of planning and lobbying, and now venturing down a new one – the building of a transitional village.  I plan to document this journey here, to serve as a pragmatic model for addressing a multifaceted issue.  A community based model that honors social capital as the primary economic engine of change.

Here is a local newspaper article on the day: "It takes a start-up"

Origin of Oregon's Transitional Housing Statute

Jeff Albanese did some digging related to my last post, regarding the origin of Oregon's unique transitional housing statute that has now justified the legal existence of a transitional village in both Portland and Eugene.  His findings are included here:

I think I have figured out the origin of the statute. It is a somewhat long story...

The statute is the result of Senate Bill 882, which was passed by the legislature and signed into law in 1999. The whole bill can be read here.

You'll notice that the bulk of the bill does not deal with transitional housing campgrounds but rather with easing state zoning regulations in rural areas in order to allow private recreational campgrounds to build yurts. Why would that be? Here's my theory:

Note that the bill is sponsored by the Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources "at the request of Sen. Veral Tarno." Based on a very cursory Lexis search, it seems that Sen. Tarno, a Republican representing a rural district, was an opponent of Oregon's land use and planning statutes, particularly the state's landmark 1973 legislation that aimed to prevent sprawl and preserve agricultural lands. For example, in an AP article from 1/31/99, Tarno is quoted supporting a bill that would ease residential building restrictions on agricultural land in Coos County, asserting that land use regulations at the time were stifling economic development. It also appears that the 1999 legislative session saw a slew of bills intended to weaken the 1973 statutes. The director of 1000 Friends of Oregon, a land use watchdog group, is quoted in the same article claiming that at least 70 bills had already been introduced that would weaken statewide zoning and allow more unrestricted building in rural areas.

So why yurts, why campgrounds, and why Sen. Tarno? Apparently, under the 1973 planning regulations, yurts could not be placed on private campgrounds in some rural areas. And this is precisely what a constituent of Tarno's wanted to do.

In the minutes of a 5/19/99 meeting of the House Committee on Water and Environment, Sen. Tarno speaks in support of SB 882, saying it is necessary for the completion of the "Canopy Project" (minutes are here). Also see discussion of the bill in the Senate Committee on Water and Land Use here. The "Canopy Project" seems to have been a tourist development project in Curry County, controversial because it involved not only development of hitherto protected wilderness of ecological importance (e.g., in a park with redwood stands) but development of public lands by private corporations. See this letter from various environmental groups to the state's Parks and Recreation director in opposition to the plan: 
Now onto the issue of transitional campgrounds and yurts within urban growth boundaries...

This seems to have begun independently of Sen. Tarno's SB 882, in a bill (HB 3082) introduced by House Rep. Al King, a Democrat (who I believe was representing a district that included Eugene). You can see the bill's history here. Note that future Senator Jeff Merkley was a co-sponsor. After HB 3082's initial reading on the floor, it is referred to the House Committee on Agency & Performance Operations. At its first committee hearing on 3/30/99, King introduces the bill and describes its purpose as providing a low-cost option for people who would otherwise be homeless. During public comment, the director of Oregon Housing and Community Services speaks in support of the idea. But much more interestingly, another speaker in support of the bill is a man named Alan Bair. A constituent of King's, Bair is the owner of Pacific Yurts, Inc. (minutes). Bair also offers testimony in support of HB 3082 at the committee's meeting on 4/6/99 here.

At this point, Rep. King's HB 3082 seems to have dissolved into an amendment to Sen. Tarno's SB 882, which is by now in the House Committee on Water and Environment. The 5/19/99 meeting of the committee is where the amended SB 882 is introduced (minutes). The strange amalgamation of the two bills would explain why the bill that ultimately passed seems to have two different definitions of "yurt": one for the parties who want to develop for-profit eco-tourism in state parks, another for parties interested in creating transitional campgrounds in urban growth zones. During the committee's 6/2/99 meeting, Rep. King refers to these separate definitions as a "firewall" that separates the first sections of the bill (which have to do with Sen. Tarno's original bill) from section 6 of the bill (which would ultimately be incorporated into statute law as ORS 446.265).

The Department of Land Conservation and Development did not support Sen. Tarno's original bill. But at the committee's 6/4/99 meeting, the Department reports that their concerns have been addressed in earlier amendments (section 3 of the final bill). By now, the bill is ready to leave committee and head out for a final vote. Jeff Merkley himself motions to adopt King's amendments to SB 882. The motion passes and the committee sends the bill to the floor with a "Do Pass" recommendation. After moving to adopt the amendments, the minutes report that Merkley "notes an experience he had with a homeless family. Comments on the benefits of yurts as opposed to shelters." Perhaps Sen. Merkley is an untapped supporter for Opportunity Village and similar organizations.... (minutes).

So to answer your question whether other states have similar statutes, my guess is no. ORS 446.265 is the product of a Frankenstein bill with the unlikeliest coalition of supporters (eco-tourism developers, social services administrators, homeless advocates, and yurt manufacturers) and opponents (environmental groups, planners, and rural residents concerned with population growth).

I haven't looked into the fate of "Project Canopy" yet. Though I did look into Mr. Bair's Pacific Yurts, Inc. The company's website touts their product's utility in generating government revenue ("renting Pacific Yurts has helped Oregon State Parks increase revenue by generating greater use of coastal parks during the more inclement off-season") ( And an AP article from 10/29/99, months after SB 882 passed, describes a battle between residents of Malibu, CA and the developer of a New Age spa intending to use yurts for accommodations along a scenic canyon. The yurt supplier is Pacific Yurts, Inc.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

ORS 446.265 - Transitional Housing Accommodations

This obscure Oregon Revised Statute allows for up to two campgrounds providing transitional housing accommodations per municipality.  It had not previously been invoked until 2004 with the establishment of Portland's Dignity Village as a "transitional housing campground.  This act guaranteed DV a long-term stay in a stable location and allowed residents to transition from tents to micro-housing made from recycled material.  The city's building code was not enforced on the Village, allowing it to develop organically.
Early development at Dignity Village, Portland

The law emphasizes the use of yurts as the form of housing for this type of use, but does not
require that it be a yurt.  It notes that any other type of housing is subject to the regulations and codes for recreation parks and organizational camps.  While this was not really enforced in Portland, the city of Eugene is requiring that the development at Opportunity Village meets these guidelines.  Campground "sites" must be separated by at least 10 feet and structures must be permitted (though we have negotiated a streamlined permitting process that reduces the cost and hassle).

ORS 446.265 puts Oregon in a unique situation to more readily accommodate the transitional village model.  Eugene will be the second city it Oregon to make use of this relatively unknown law with Opportunity Village expecting to open at the end of August.  With many cities throughout the state continuing to experience budget cuts to social services while grappling with persistent homeless issues, the law may continue to see more use.

I'm curious about the origin of this law and how it came to be.  Do other states have similar laws to support a transitional village?  One I know of is California State Law SB2, which permits the siting emergency shelters, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing by right in certain zones. The law requires that cities zone for emergency needs, and if someone comes forward and shows those needs aren’t met, then citizens have a right to set up an emergency site.  Anyway, here is ORS 446.265 in its entirety:

Monday, July 22, 2013

What's After the Transitional Village?

Two routes with two organizations ready to implement them.

In order for a homeless camp to progress to a sanctioned village, it will almost certainly need to be defined as transitional, meaning residents are staying there temporarily until they can find a more permanent living situation.  This is especially true if it is to be hosted on public land.  But where are they to transition to?

The way I see it, there are two primary means for someone to transition out: a secured source of income or a relationship with a land owner.  I'll tackle the latter first.

Relocating a micro-housing unit from the transitional village to the backyard of a private residence can be an ideal solution. The transitional village model emphasizes collaboration between the unhoused and the housed, which can lead to relationships where this type of agreement can come to fruition.  In addition to providing someone a more permanent living situation, this would also increase the density of our single-family neighborhoods, promoting a more village-like environment. 

Backyard Bungalows is a design-build firm developing structures with this in mind.  The micro-housing they are designing for Opportunity Village is very compact (60-80 sq. ft.) and composed of modular 4'x8' panels that are interchangeable.  With a more stable site, more panels can easily be added to make a larger, more comfortable living space.
A 180 sq. ft. bungalow designed and built by
 Backyard Bungalows

It's unrealistic, though, to think everyone is going to run into that sweet of a deal.  Consequently, I believe we must make this type of housing more readily available - through the creation of affordable villages.  This would be an alternative take on affordable housing similar to how the transitional village is an alternative take on transitional housing.

Once it becomes financially feasible, a resident could relocate their home, earned through sweat equity, to a more permanent village setting where they would pay a modest rent.  Again, the transitional village model improves conditions by encouraging relationships that can lead to local jobs that would make this progression possible.

Since this would be the next step away from homelessness, it would likely offer more stable community with a higher quality of life standard.  Structures could even be upgraded to more elaborate tiny houses, or "second settlers," and the old structures could cycle back to the transitional village.

The Village Collaborative is a new initiative with the intent of planning and designing this type of housing opportunity.  By rethinking our standard of living in a more human-scaled perspective, we can create homes and communities that are more attainable and fulfilling. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Santa Cruz Sanctuary Camp

Here is the video by Brent Adams that has been changing minds in Santa Cruz,  helping to create the groundwork as they move towards the goal of establishing a Sanctuary Camp this fall.  Following the video is a short article by Brent.

I had not identified myself as a homeless activist until last year when someone referred to me as one.  My immediate response was embarrassment, because I realized that If I’m a “homeless activist” then homeless folks are in trouble.  For all of my activist work, I knew that not one less person was homeless because of me. 

I also had been seeing this when surveying homeless activist groups that have existed in Santa Cruz over the past decade.  It seems the situation for homeless folks is worse off than ever in our town.  Whenever someone finds a stray syringe or trash in the woods it is attributed to these folks and life is always made increasingly difficult for them through the closing of open space and bathrooms and then the successful Needle Exchange program was forced to close and move out of the area.  Their situation is automatically illegal because the law forbids people sleeping outside at night.  I became frustrated by the fact that very little has been done to help folks find an alternative.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Building Small: Transitional Micro-housing

Recently, I've been able to get away from the desk and into the workshop, building some of the prototype structures for Opportunity Village, a transitional village for and by the homeless.  The structures are composed of modular 4'x8' panels that can be easily assembled on site or disassembled and transported if necessary - ideal for temporary, transitional housing.  The parts are also largely interchangeable, allowing for the structures to be adapted to the site.  Also, if a permanent site is located for the structure, the inhabitant can simply add more panels to expand their space.

In Oregon, if a structure is under 200 sq. ft. and an average height of 10 ft., it does not require a building permit unless it is a habitable structure.  While this last part is rarely enforced on private property, we are being required to have the structures for the Village permitted.  But, due to the "temporary" nature of the housing, we are getting around two building code requirements that have significantly hindered the tiny house movement: permanent foundations and insulation requirements.

Habitable structures are typically required to have permanent foundations, but since the structures will not be hard-wired to utilities this is not a concern.  Instead the structures will be raised on pier blocks, requiring little to no earthwork.

Second, habitable structures must typically be insulated to meet a certain R-value standard, regardless of their size.  Recently, though, the Oregon REACH Code (ORC) code has incorporated size based tiers, recognizing that larger homes use more energy than smaller ones.  Under this interpretation, larger homes are required to be more energy-efficient to encourage the construction of smaller homes.  The ORC is an "optional building code that aims to keep the state’s design and construction industry at the forefront of high-performance building by providing both a preview of measures likely to be considered in the next mandatory building code and also a testing ground for innovative design and new technology."

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has an excellent presentation on why we need to encourage building smaller homes:

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Village Building Catalog

The Village Structure Catalog shown below is intended to provide the building blocks for transitional and affordable village.  The document was created to guide the physical realization of Opportunity Village Eugene and to inspire similar projects in other cities.