Portland seeks backyards for tiny homes for homeless

The pilot will start with 4 units and officials hope to expand it

Some of the Tiny Houses on display at the Tiny House Conference in Portland, April 18, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)
Some of the Tiny Houses on display at the Tiny House Conference in Portland, April 18, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Multnomah County is seeking homeowners in Portland willing to let them build a tiny home in their backyard to house homeless.

It’s a way for Portland to bridge a gap while affordable housing is constructed in a city where nearly 1,900 people sleep outside each night and many more in shelters.

“Shelter beds are amazingly critical,” said Mary Li, director of the Multnomah Idea Lab. “They save lives, but none of us wants to think of anyone, particularly a family of children living in a shelter for any period of time.”

Amy Talbert has been homeless for about a year, and is now 16 weeks pregnant with twins. Talbert and her husband are looking for stable housing after their home in Baton Rouge was flooded.

“I have PTSD and my husband has PTSD, and in the shelters, you are in such close proximity … you don’t feel safe, you don’t feel secure, there’s no privacy,” Talbert said.

The county would build the Accessory Dwelling Unit and a homeless person or family would live in it for five years. After five years, the homeowner would become the full owner with unrestricted use of the ADU. The building of the ADU would be at no cost to the homeowner. They would also not have to pay for utilities.

The county is also working on a tax abatement program so homeowners would not be taxed additionally.

“What this does is offer the ability of the homeowner to utilize underutilized space in their back yard,” Li said.

The county prefers homes that are close to key services like public transit, public schools, a grocery store and a daycare. The tenants of the ADU would receive social services through A Home For Everyone.

Talbert said even married couples are often separated in shelters, so they decided to stay in a tent. Talbert likes the idea of living in a tiny home instead.

“I think it would be a complete blessing,” Talbert said. “It wouldn’t be a tent. It would be safe and stable.”

Li said the these tiny homes aren’t meant to be “forever homes,” but safe landing places for families to be stable while finding their forever home.

The idea would be to start with just four units but Multnomah County officials hope to expand.

The plan is currently seeking interested homeowners. To join the list, click here. County housing officials said 200 homeowners have already signed up to learn more about the project.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.