Portland offers free "tiny home" to residents... if they let homeless people live in them

Out in the Northwest there’s been a movement for some time known as Keep Portland Weird. It’s an attitude which seems to infect not only the highly liberal population, but their elected officials as well. That appears to be on display yet again as the city seeks new ways to combat its skyrocketing problem of homelessness. With thousands of indigent residents sleeping each night either on the streets or in makeshift, crime infested tent cities, a new solution is clearly needed. I suppose that’s what led to the current proposal which is being rolled out this summer. The city will pay for “tiny houses” which residents can put in their backyards, provided they allow the homeless to live in them for the next five years. (Daily Mail)

Faced with an intractable homeless problem, officials in Portland are thinking inside the box.

A handful of homeless families will soon move into tiny, government-constructed modular units in the backyards of willing homeowners.

Portland officials are looking for four backyards to place its Accessory Dwelling Units, what some people may call a granny flat, or a tiny home minus wheels.

Under the pilot program taking effect this summer, the homeowners will take over the heated, fully plumbed tiny houses in five years and can use them for rental income.

While this sounds, quite frankly, pretty creepy on the surface, I suppose there’s nothing immediately disqualifying about the approach. The government isn’t forcing anyone to put one of these makeshift shelters in their yard, but rather seeking volunteers who are willing to do so. And in theory, it’s conceivable that willing homeowners might get something out of the bargain. If the tiny house is still livable after five years of being occupied by a stream of homeless persons, the landowner could then legally rent it out to paying customers for supplemental income.

But how likely is that? Looking at the conditions in the tent cities, not only in Portland but at homeless gatherings around the nation, this is not generally a clientele one would expect to take good care of the space and work to keep property values up. I’m sure there may be exceptions to the rule but the trends seem undeniable. And this doesn’t even begin to address the question of having unknown persons who frequently may have a history of “interactions with the police” tramping around your property at all hours of the night and day. It’s interesting that the director of this project describes the locations for these tiny houses as “underutilized space” in the interview. I have some underutilized space in my backyard as well. I call it my backyard and I don’t generally open it up for strangers.

There are also immediate questions about the taxpayer money which will fund this project. The city is going to be shelling out $365,000 for four of these units which each have a floor space of 200 square feet. There are parts of this country where you can still buy a fairly nice permanent home with 10 times that amount of space in the $90,000 range. (Of course that only applies to more suburban and rural areas away from urban, high employment areas.) A shelter of that size may indeed turn out to be a viable rental property in some sort of airbnb application but it boggles the mind to think that anyone would pay that much for a structure which is substantially smaller than your average tool shed.

Homelessness is a serious issue all across the country and I’m glad that there are people working on creative solutions. Unfortunately, simply erecting more living quarters doesn’t strike at the heart of the problem. There are no doubt some people who simply lose their jobs and have no support network who wind up on the streets for a time. But the vast majority of the homeless typically wind up being people with mental illness issues, drug and alcohol abuse problems or a combination of both. Until you can tackle those driving factors, simply erecting more low value domiciles isn’t going to crack this nut.