Members of Presbyterian Women helped hoist the first wall in Cottage Village last week, marking a new milestone in the tiny house project at 1430 E. Madison Ave.
“This isn’t the answer to our housing crisis, but it’s definitely a start,” said Mayor Jeff Gowing to a crowd of community members and project volunteers who turned out for the April 25 event.
After more than three years of planning and volunteering, the first of 13 tiny homes has begun to take shape as a new phase has begun in the collaborative affordable housing project run by the Cottage Village Coalition (CVC) and SquareOne Villages.
With momentum gathering in the project, Lane County Commissioner Heather Buch stopped by to speak at last Wednesday’s event.
“We all know that housing is a huge issue along the West Coast in general and we’re of course no isolated incident here,” she said. “I want to commend SquareOne Villages for identifying a gap in housing and actually moving as fast as they can to find solutions in small rural locations as well as all over Lane County. What they do is unique and your help in this effort is really commendable.”
SquareOne Village’s executive director Dan Bryant emphasized the need for projects like this.
“There are a million Americans who lose their housing every year, evicted simply because they cannot afford their rent,” he said. “And so this is a way to address this problem.”
Providing low-income housing while maintaining quality is a challenge to any affordable housing project, but those involved in building Cottage Village are confident they have struck that balance.
“This is going to be high-quality. It’s going to be attractive. It’s going to be something the whole community can be proud of,” said Bryant.
Architects of the tiny homes were able to maximize the usage of the 200 to 300 square-foot units to equip each house with living and sleeping areas, full bathrooms and kitchenettes.
“Some of our homes we designed specifically with young families in mind,” Bryant said. “They have a loft in them that would be great for one or two children.”
At the staggeringly low price of $250 to $350 per month including utilities, the units are intended to house anybody from single residents to small families in a long-term capacity.
Equity-generating opportunities may also be available to future Cottage Village residents.
Another of SquareOne Village’s affordable housing projects in Eugene, Emerald Village, is a limited equity co-op, effectively making each resident a shareholder of the village. For their first 30 months, residents there pay a $50 share as part of their rent into a $1,500 asset that may be cashed out if they leave.
This system is intended to be a feature of Cottage Village as well, though the goal is to present it as an option after residents have had a couple years to settle in.
“They will actually build up some equity within the community,” said Bruce Kelsh, chair of CVC. “If you stay here and then want to move somewhere else, you can take that equity with you.”
Though some may use such a system as a stepping stone in a pursuit of some upward mobility, the village will serve a range of lifestyle trajectories.
“It’s not designed to be a transitional program,” Bryant said. “It depends on the household and what their situation is. For that person who lives on a fixed income, who does not really have a chance to be upwardly mobile, it’s a chance to live with decency and with dignity.”
Such cases can be found at Emerald Village, where residents and applicants tend to be near or at retirement.
“For that household, this is probably a long-term, permanent home,” said Bryant about Cottage Village housing. “And it’s designed to be that. This is where you could live for 20 or 30 years.”
Though construction has begun on the first tiny home, it’s not yet clear when people will begin moving in. Site development is likely to start in June and further progress is somewhat dependent on funding.
The coalition’s hope is that the first house will incentivize others to join the effort and see the project through to completion.
“We pushed really hard to build this first house because once people see what a really nice quality, safe, well-designed tiny house is like, then they’ll be like, ‘Ah, that’s what you’re talking about,’” said Kelsh. “I think when you see it broken down into doable pieces, that provides the opportunity for organizations to think, ‘Yeah, I think we can do that if we work on it.’”
Kelsh said that interest in similar projects had already been shown in places like Florence and Bandon.
Since January of 2016, CVC members have met twice a month to realize their vision of Cottage Village.
“It started really because people were saying, ‘We’ve got homeless people in our community; we know these people. What are we going to do about that?’” Kelsh said. “And then it evolved into learning more about the state of homelessness in Lane County.”
The need for affordable housing is no secret in cities like Cottage Grove. In the Cottage Grove Housing Needs Analysis released in August last year, the 20-year plan indicated the need for an average of 69 new units to be built per year in order to meet projected demand.
“Fifty percent of the people in the county are what they call, ‘asset-limited, income-constrained.’ Basically, the working poor,” said Kelsh.
Units like those planned for Cottage Village not only fall under the housing analysis’s stated low-income need, but also provide security for those who are economically vulnerable to a single expense-laden event that may render them without housing.
“So, the goal of it is to prevent people from becoming homeless,” Kelsh said.
Funding for the project so far has come from a variety of sources including $15,000 from the city to help with system development charges, a recent $500,000 Housing Improvement Program grant from Lane County and numerous other grants and donations.
“We’ve been fortunate in people giving us unsolicited grants, which is a real affirmation of our project,” said Kelsh.
Despite the robust support, the coalition is on continuous lookout for funding. In a letter to the City of Cottage Grove, SquareOne Village stated that approximately $500,000 is still needed to complete the project.
The City of Cottage Grove has scheduled a work session to determine how much can be spent to further the effort, though it currently remains unclear how much, if anything, can be provided.
As site development begins for the village, expenses for paving, construction and utility installation will begin to accrue.
“Any help the city can give us toward that would be greatly appreciated,” Bryant said.
Community support is also welcomed as the project moves into its next phase. The coalition will be looking for monetary and material donations, but skilled labor in construction and landscaping fields will also be needed.
For Kelsh, perseverance and patience will be key tools in the road ahead. “We’ll just keep plugging away at it until it’s done,” he said.
Donations can be made at the SquareOne Village website at www.squareonevillages.org, where more information on Cottage Village can be found as well.