Multnomah County is searching for homeowners in the Portland area who are willing to donate their backyards so they can build tiny homes to shelter homeless people. Nearly 1,900 people sleep outside each night in Portland, with many more sleeping in shelters. The county would build the home, called an Accessory Dwelling Unit, at no cost to the homeowner. A homeless person or family would live in the ADU for five years and after that time, the homeowner would have unrestricted use of the building.
“Shelter beds are amazingly critical,” said Mary Li, the director of 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. What this does is offer the ability of the homeowner to utilize underutilized space in their backyard.”
Amy Talbert has been homeless for almost a year and is now pregnant with twins. Talbert and her husband have been looking for stable housing since 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,” said Talbert.
She explained that even married couples often get separated in shelters. She and her husband decided to stay in a tent instead. She likes the idea of a tiny home better.
“I think it would be a complete blessing,” Talbert said. “It wouldn’t be a tent. It would be safe and stable.”
According to Li, these homes aren’t meant to be “forever homes,” but safe places for families to live while they search for a permanent home. The county prefers that the donated backyards come from homes close to services such as public transit, public schools, grocery stores, and daycares. The tenants of the ADU would benefit from social services through A Home For Everyone. A tax abatement program is in the works which would exempt homeowners from paying additional taxes.
Multnomah County officials plan to start with just four housing units but hope to expand the program. The county is currently seeking homeowners interested in helping the homeless in a huge way. Two hundred homeowners have already expressed interest in donating their backyards. To sign up, click here.