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: