Portland's Newest Homeless Housing Idea

  • Bearded Norseman
    Bearded Norseman
    Keymaster
    Topics: 12
    Replies: 2

    Back in the spring of 2017 the Multnomah County Idea Lab came up with the solution for homelessness in the city of Portland. Low income housing. Yeah… Their idea was to use government funds (your tax money) along with some donations to purchase 200 sqf tiny homes at $75,000 a piece and place them in willing property owners backyards. They are calling this housing project “A Place for You”. The plan was that homeless service providers would put homeless families into these homes as needed and after a five year period the tiny home/ADU (accessory dwelling unit) would then belong to the property owner free and clear. The hope being that the property owner, being used to the tenants, might continue to rent to low income families. If at any point the property owners decided they did not want tenants any longer they had to pay for the cost of the tiny home. Initially over 1,000 property owners applied to be part of the program.  At the time of this proposal Portland had just passed a low income housing bond and was planning out 24,000 apartment units to get everyone off the streets.  Mary Li the director of the Idea Lab said that, “Those units are not going to come on line for another two to three years and they’re really expensive to build in some cases. We have people on the street now.” Hence the need to get this project up and running so that families could have roofs over their heads sooner rather than later.

    When I first heard this proposal my initial thought was “This is soooo not gonna work.” Firstly, I don’t know who in their right mind would consider $75,000 for a 200 sqf “house” cost effective in a way. The only stat I could find that supported Mary Li’s idea that this would be more cost effective is that, “A family of four costs $32,000 a year to house and help in a shelter. That same family could be supported in one of the pilot project’s tiny houses for $15,000 a year during the five-year contract.” -The Oregonian. Yes, $75,000 divided by 5 years is $15,000 a year. But that doesn’t take into account interest, utilities, repairs, or the cost of food all of which I assumed is covered under that “help” portion of the $32,00 per year estimate. Plus these tiny homes are designed to house only 1 parent and 2 children. So on top of proposing that we split up families the math is very misleading. Secondly, their are so many government regulations that would make this impossible it would make your head spin. Such things as unintentional tax evasion, county building permits, and housing regulations to name a few. Thirdly, as we all know, a person tends to care more about things they have worked for rather than stuff they have been given for free. The homeless people I have seen don’t usually have much respect for their stuff or the places they camp out. Just because you put a nice roof over their head instead of a nylon tent doesn’t mean they will magically change their world view or habits.

    Well no real progress has been made with this project as it has been continuously pushed back. “We started with that mindset of, ‘Let’s not take forever and ever and ever,’ but this is why you do a test, right? I don’t even have the time now to list everything we didn’t know about accessory dwelling units,” says Multnomah Idea Lab director Mary Li. At least they are being honest about their lack of knowledge on building codes and how taxes work. It turns out that you can’t just “give” these tiny homes to the property owners after their 5 year agreement is up because it would count as income and therefore would be taxable. That $75,000 increase to a person’s taxable income would lead to quite a large sum of money being taken at tax time. Mary Li’s idea to get around this is to have the tiny home assessed after the 5 year contract is up and allow the property owner to purchase it for the assessed price. Anyone who has been watching home prices in Portland knows that prices have been trending up and are unlikely to go down due to the large and continuous influx of people to the area.

    People are now slightly less enthusiastic about being a host now that there is no monetary incentive. But Multnomah County was able to scrounge up 4 homeowners that were deemed ” very values- and issues-oriented” who agreed to be part of the pilot program. They were hoping to start installing these tiny homes during summer 2018 but they have continued to be pushed back due to legal red tape and that the hired contractor Enhabit has been experimenting with new materials and designs for this project. Budget for the pilot program started off at $350,000 with the tiny homes costing $75,000 each, now that has increased to $500,000 overall with the homes costing at least $80,000 each.

    So, will these homes ever actually be built for the homeless to use? No one knows. Frankly this whole thing smells like the standard use of public funds to pad the pockets of greedy bureaucrats and some chosen private start-up company that knows how to waste/hide money and keep their mouths shut about it. Either way, this is obviously not a very affordable way to shelter the homeless nor is it going to do anything to make a dent in the number of people living on the streets. At this point it is doubtful that this program will get past it’s trial phase before the low income housing bond units are built. All in all it looks like another bust for the local government trying to find “The Solution” to the rampant homelessness that plagues the Portland area.

    “I predict future happiness for Americans, if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.” – Thomas Jefferson

    I always get the shakes before a drop.

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