Cottage Grove, News

Tiny houses? Now that’s a giant idea

In progress, construction stages of tiny homes in Cottage Grove. Dana Merryday/Chronicle Columnist

As you are hopefully relaxing, gratefully stuffed from the holiday meal with a roof over your head, there are others in our community who don’t have this luxury that should be a basic right. Affordable housing has become premium in Lane County, where there is a very low vacancy rate coupled with increasing rents.
Add in the high poverty rate in the area, and many find themselves in danger of losing their housing, particularly those on a fixed income and over the age of 50.
There is a group of Cottage Grove citizens who have been working together for over three years to try and ease this problem. This group grew out of the Earth and Social Justice Committee at the Cottage Grove First Presbyterian Church, which has a long history of working on low-income housing. Members of this congregation have driven the creation of the Witherspoon Court and Jefferson Park Apartments, both of which are operated for those with limited finances.
The committee members recognized that there was a huge need in this rural community for affordable housing. As they began to look for answers they invited Andrew Heben to speak to the group and also read his book, ”Tent City Urbanism: From Self-Organized Camps to Tiny Villages.” They soon realized that one solution could be a village of tiny homes forming a self-governing community.
Committee members visited two Eugene housing communities, Opportunity Village and Emerald Village, operated by SquareOne Villages (SOV). This non-profit operates with the mission of ”Creating self-managed communities of cost-effective tiny homes for people with low incomes in need of housing.”
These successful villages grew out of ideas written by Heben, who serves as project director at SquareOne Villages. He spent time in homeless tent cities as part of his graduate studies and incorporated his experiences into an award-winning master’s thesis in 2011. Portland’s Dignity Village was a pioneering example of self-governing homeless groups and tiny homes getting together and has been reimagined in Eugene.
It turns out that SquareOne Villages was looking for a pilot rural village project and the committee and SOV began talks of combining forces. Thus the Cottage Village Coalition was born. CVC became a local committee under the umbrella of SquareOne Villages.
CVC located a 1.2 acre parcel in Cottage Grove that was centrally located with access to transportation, services and parks. SOV, aided by a $200,000 Meyer Memorial Grant, purchased the property. The first big step of growing a village had begun in Cottage Grove.
There were a number of issues to work out – zoning, permits, relations with the neighbors – but from the start CVC found a willing partner in the City of Cottage Grove. City officials are keenly aware of the need for affordable housing in our city and have been revamping the codes to make it easier to add additional dwelling units (ADU) to current properties.
As the vision developed, so did access to money. A grant-writing workshop sponsored by the Ford Family Foundation in Roseburg has empowered the Coalition members to take on the rigors of competing for money in the grant world. An investment of time that has paid off well.
The Presbyterian Women’s Birthday Fund donated $100,000. Lane County awarded a $500,000 grant in January. A site design was developed that will have 13 tiny homes with lots of common space to be shared by the residents. There are two existing structures on the property: a home being rented, and a shop that will be repurposed into a community center after construction.
There will be four different house designs built with footprints between 192 and 288 square feet. All houses include sleeping lofts. This is in contrast to new home construction that averages 2600 square feet.
The idea of the tiny home has much to offer. It is far more affordable. The median home price in Lane County is close to $300,000. That excludes many buyers. Being small makes it energy-efficient and sustainable, too, so it’s good for the Earth.
At Cottage Village, foundations are poured for all the tiny homes, eight are framed and dried-in, and one accessory dwelling unit (ADU) is nearly complete. There has been major progress on getting the sewer and utilities hooked up. There will be ample space for community gardens and landscaping.
As Cottage Village is developing, members of CVC have shared their successes with other communities hoping to address housing issues. Some of the lessons learned will help others do it easier and perhaps better. SquareOne Villages is also interested in exporting the tools for developing self-governing, village-style housing projects to all who seek this method of helping people in need of housing.
While talking with CVC member Bruce Kelsh on the state of the Cottage Village progress, he explained that this project is designed to prevent homelessness. Residents who are chosen to become members of the village will be paying an affordable rate, be expected to contribute some hours in service to the village, and participate in the governing process which is crucial to the success of the village. Residents will also be earning some equity that they will take with them when they find a more suitable housing setting for themselves.
”As we consider the resident selection process, we realize that it is key to the success of the Village,” Kelsh said. ”Interested potential residents will be invited to public meetings where the expectations for residents will be clearly explained. We want the social and emotional needs of the residents met as well as their housing needs. Loneliness and lack of community are affecting many these days. We hope, if all goes well, to be able to consider having some residents move in by June or July.”
The work of Cottage Village Coalition seems to be infectious. The American Legion, in partnership with Homes for Good, will be constructing four tiny homes on their parking lot to help veterans with housing needs.
To learn more about the work of the Cottage Village Coalition or the larger mission of SquareOne Villages, visit their website at squareonevillages.org and designate your donation for Cottage Village.
If you are lucky to have a good housing situation, please consider helping someone not so blessed. Neighbor helping neighbor makes the world go ’round.

You can reach Dana Merryday at 541-942-7037 and [email protected]