DANA MERRYDAY/CHRONICLE PHOTO

New residents and Square One staffers help cut the ribbon at the Cottage Grove Village Co-op Open House last week. All 13 homes are complete. “This project literally saved my life, thank you,” one resident said. “Living here has preserved the connections to my own family and also given me a new family, the community here.”

It was a day long coming and the still-present heat couldn’t keep the crowds from descending on the Cottage Village Co-op Open House last Tuesday afternoon. Many did seek the shade cast by the now-completed complement of 13 tiny homes, or took seats under the canopies or in the workshop that has served the project so well. It was a joyous mix of officials, affordable housing enthusiasts, town folk, and the current residents.  

There had been a dedication in September, 2020 of the first nine homes with the new residents afterward moving into a village which still had foundations awaiting four more houses. That celebration took place under a cloud of rain, tragic wildfires, and the still-emerging pandemic. What a change now that there are better conditions (besides the heat dome) and all the homes are completed and awaiting the newest members of the self-governing collective. The original residents have given their homes personality, adding decorations, lawn furniture, and most notably an explosion of color from all the flowering plants they have added as they settle their roots into the community that is a part of the goal of the project.

Arriving guests milled about inspecting the grounds and the two open houses while being serenaded by local musician Jimmy Schaper playing his first gig since the pandemic began. An announcement calling to find a seat brought everyone’s attention to the podium where a series of speakers took turns celebrating the completion of this dream. First up was Square One Villages Executive Director Dan Bryant. Besides thanking all the financial donors and people involved in making this vision reality, Bryant shared some of the philosophy behind the organization’s approach. “The Village empowers a group of residents. They manage the community, do the groundskeeping, the decision-making, and in doing so they don’t need a landlord. We cut out the middleman and help people create a pathway to control their destiny.” Bryant also shared the good news that a state grant for $2 million will be used to expand their work by supporting a new 70-unit village in Eugene and a project similar to the one here down in Roseburg.

Bruce Kelsh, Chairman of the local Cottage Village Coalition, recognized the role of the local 1st Presbyterian Church, whose Earth & Social Justice Committee members had begun the work that grew into this day of celebration. Pastor Karen Hill of that congregation spoke of the sense of “Call” that is inherent in Presbyterian practice, putting into action what members feel God would want to see happen to help one’s neighbor. Besides the Cottage Village, the local church has had its hands in affordable housing starting with Rainbow Village in Springfield, and Witherspoon Court and Jefferson Arms here in the Grove.

Cottage Grove Mayor Gowing acknowledged the good working relationship between the Cottage Village Coalition and the City of Cottage Grove and how proud he was to be able to work together to help provide much-needed affordable housing in our community.

DANA MERRYDAY/CHRONICLE PHOTO

Residents have made the tiny homes uniquely their own.

Despite all the eloquence of the speakers before, it was the residents themselves who had the last word when four of them took turns at the mic sharing their gratitude and some of their stories with the audience. It took courage to open up to an unfamiliar crowd of strangers but the emotions and sincere thankfulness was poignant and tugged at the heartstrings of all present. One resident told of having to leave an unsafe situation with her daughter and live in a travel trailer until this opportunity allowed her to relax and know she was finally in a safe place for her and family. Another spoke of leaving an overcrowded dwelling for his first taste of independent living. Perhaps the most powerful message came from resident Aislinn: “This place is a dream come true for the residents and plus there is a community around to support you. It is the biggest gift to be able to have a roof over your head. I’m 42 and this is the first place I get to call my own. Every day I wake up inspired to do something, when I was struggling with homelessness there were all these obstacles just to survive. This project literally saved my life, thank you! Living here has preserved the connections to my own family and also given me a new family, the community here.”

In all the gratitude and expressions of appreciation being spread around there was one group that everyone mentioned, from staff, coalition members and the residents themselves, the carpenters Gabe, Conner, Tyler, and Hunter who built the village. The first two had been with the project from the first time the muddy field was stepped off. All the speakers told of how these craftsmen put so much love into building the village houses. The little touches that made each house unique, problem solving, answering questions and generally making it all happen. When the ceremonial ribbon cutting was set up at the end with the residents lined up in front of the new houses, there were calls for Gabe and Connor to come wield the big scissors. While it takes a community to raise a village, it seems very special carpenters are essential if you want to complete a field of dreams. If you build it they will come, and Cottage Grove did. Congratulations, Cottage Village Co-op and welcome home, residents!

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