Cottage Village offers stability, affordability

SquareOne Villages is conducting a final information session this weekend as the tiny homes at the Cottage Village location are nearing completion.

Tiny houses are taking shape in Cottage Village — and with construction nearly completed on the first nine houses, the nonprofit organization behind the village is accepting a final round of applicants.

The Cottage Village project is being developed by SquareOne Villages in collaboration with the Cottage Village Coalition (CVC) — a local extension and committee of SquareOne — with the goal of bringing a permanent, affordable tiny house cooperative to Cottage Grove.

“Housing cooperatives are a strategy of affordable housing that are pretty tried and true in this country going back to the ‘20s and ‘30s,” said Jeffrey Albanese, director of community and program development at SquareOne.

The nonprofit’s stated goal is to create self-managed communities of cost-effective tiny homes for people with low incomes in need of housing. 

As a city populated with a high number of economically vulnerable individuals, Cottage Grove stands to benefit from new affordable housing strategies.

“And the chronically homeless. We still have to address that,” said Albanese. “We’re addressing one bandwidth of the housing and homeless issue.”

Since 2012, SquareOne Villages has developed two tiny home villages in Lane County — Opportunity Village and Emerald Village — with Cottage Village soon to join that list.

The village is being constructed at 1430 E. Madison Ave. and is currently accepting applications. Applicants, however, must attend an information session as a prerequisite for eligibility. 

A final session is scheduled at the site this Saturday, June 6, from noon to 12:30 p.m. Interested parties should RSVP on the village’s website or by emailing [email protected]

Part of the reason for the information session requirement is the unique nature of the living space.

“We want to make people understand what they’re signing up for,” said Albanese. “It’s not just a cheap place to live.”

Upon completion, the 1.2-acre site will host 13 tiny houses, each of which includes sleeping and living areas, a kitchenette and a bathroom. Original plans also called for a community gathering area on the property, though some uncertainty has been cast on the structure’s realization as the project team members discuss options.

The village aims to serve Cottage Grove residents with very low incomes (under 50 percent area median income) who are currently unable to access affordable housing or are at high risk of losing their current housing.

Following the attendance of an information session and application submission, applicants must qualify for residency based on income, a background check, references and a demonstration that they are able to participate in day-to-day life and governance of the village in a cooperative manner.

Once accepted, a resident becomes part of the co-op and signs an agreement to abide by certain standards such as participation in monthly meetings and volunteering a minimum number of hours per month to the “common good” of the village.

“It’s not going to be a good place for people who don’t like regular interaction or working together with neighbors,” said Albanese about the characteristics of potential residents.

Because residents are taking care of the property in lieu of a property management company, costs can remain low. 

This and other strategies have allowed the nonprofit to rent out houses for the expected range of $350-$450 per month and run the operation at-cost.

In addition to gaining the basic necessity of secure shelter, residents of Cottage Village will also be involved in the governance, operations and maintenance of the village.

By providing agency and control over one’s living space, the SquareOne strategy aims to instill residents with a pride of ownership and sense of community.

“As we know, democracy is messy. Working with other people is messy,” said CVC Chair Bruce Kelsh. “But you’re also in connection with other people and those connections are important and they mean something.”

Kelsh sees the strategy as a useful tool in providing future residents with dignity and self-worth.

“Every voice counts. Every opinion counts. That might be a real change for people,” he said.

With SquareOne’s support, resident training will include learning by-laws of the co-op, how to operate in the decision-making process (such as majority vote or consensus) and responsibility of elected positions. 

While SquareOne will provide groundwork policies and procedures, much can be changed as the cooperative sees fit.

Committees will be formed to handle certain tasks like maintenance or letting new members in, conflicts will be resolved as a group and residents can elect to make improvements such as installing solar panels.

“Cooperatives exist to meet the needs of their members,” said Albanese.

From Co-op to Community

Another key aspect of the cooperative village model is the potential social harmony which can resonate outward into the surrounding area as a result of residents’ stability and sense of community.

Albanese recalled a housing model similar to Cottage Village on Washington’s San Juan Islands where residents thrived due to stable housing.

“Because they’ve been able to have that stability, it’s allowed them to start their own businesses and do other things — things they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do if they were more precariously housed,” he said. “Shared equity is trying to redistribute economic power. We are trying to get at the root of the issue.”

Kelsh, too, sees the village as tackling root issues in the community.

“There’s a housing crisis. But there’s also the crisis of loneliness in the United States,” he said. “And I think that causes all sorts of rippled effects.”

Kelsh sees mental health as playing a vital role in community cohesion and a sense of isolation can have deleterious effects not just on the individual, but on the surrounding community.

“I feel that all communities are healthier when people feel that they’re part of that community,” he said.

A sense of efficacy and being part of a decision-making process are good ingredients for healthy communities, said Kelsh, “And I think a co-op situation is a microcosm of that.”

Kelsh sees the real possibility that the model could catch on, too.

In the cooperative housing strategy, “There’s a certain responsibility to be a model community,” he said. “So that is replicated by other people. And that can go out into Cottage Grove and beyond.”

Project team members are hopeful that, despite the socio-economic background of future residents, the surrounding neighborhood will be accepting of their new neighbors and allow the cooperative the chance to grow.

“Many people are in situations where they are economically vulnerable,” said Kelsh. “That doesn’t mean they’re not a decent person.”

The entire 13-house project still needs $400,000 to finish and, though donations roll in from time to time, the nonprofit continues to seek funding and grants.

On June 7, a virtual house party will be held from 3 to 4 p.m. on the nonprofit’s Facebook page advertising the stretch goal of raising $80,000 to finish the first nine homes of the village.

Following the completion of the first nine houses, it’s hoped the final four will be up before the end of the year.

“It would be nice to get them up by December, but that depends on financing,” said Kelsh.

The Virtual House Party page can be found at www.facebook.com.

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