Re: Article: Homeless Oaklanders were tired of the housing crisis. So they built a ‘miracle’ village

Elise Aymer

It was heartening to read the shares by both Angie and Tim. I appreciated the deeper context that Tim gave.

As ever, the Guardian article highlighted the issue of permanence/persistence. From the article:

"So far, the city has expressed support for the project. Or at least interest.

Carroll Fife, a city council member, has been visiting the encampment and meeting with residents. And while Cob on Wood was built without a permit on land belonging to the state’s transport agency, Caltrans, the agency says it has no immediate plans to remove the structures – though it hasn’t ruled out eventually doing so.

Residents and organizers are still concerned. They have experienced sweeps conducted by the city and Caltrans before, and there are rumors that clean-up crews could be deployed to clear the area in the coming weeks.

But they hope that this time, things will be different. The group has already raised more than $24,000 through GoFundMe, and there are plans in the works to expand Cob on Wood. Elliott would like to build a chicken coop to house egg-laying hens, a pond full of water-loving plants to collect the runoff from the shower, and a gray water system that will recycle water so that a washer and dryer can be installed.

They’d also like to build residential “cobins” that people could live in long term – that is, if the community is able to stay. Those involved say the project has already had a positive impact – and are determined to build a future for it."

Land is always at issue. 

I wondered, as I read about the miracle cob village what the implications were for Portland. As Tim noted, the City allows for cob construction and there is an interest and history.

One of the unique features for me of the Oakland "miracle" project, is that it's initial focus anyway isn't providing housing but providing important supports for encampment housing - a clinic, showers, food and a place to cook, etc.

I know that there are some mobile supports as well as some provided by churches. Does anyone know of anything similar (permanent structures) in the works in Portland?


On Tue, May 11, 2021 at 8:55 AM Tim McCormick <tmccormick@...> wrote:
I love and have been following group behind this project Cob on Wood. Also  love how it connects to Portland where many people are intrigued by and have explored similar cob building methods. (traditional methods of mixed straw, mud, sand construction, often employing rounded and hand-molded forms, to create highly insulating, fire-safe, strong, inexpensive structures. 

The City of Portland has been exceptionally accommodating in allowing cob building in city code, fairly uniquely among US cities as far  as I understand. 

There are cob structures in various places around town, such as a seating/hut area at Portland State University near the corner of one building on the East edge of Park Blocks. 

I used to live just a few blocks away from the location of this "miracle village" in West Oakland -- which for those unfamiliar is a distinct area and city council district near NW corner of Oakland, to the west of downtown Oakland, that includes where the Bay Bridge and BART train tunnels connect San Francisco to the East Bay. (or, connect the West Bay to Oakland, as Oaklanders often prefer to say). As well as major port and military logistics operations, and container cranes (key local icon).

Overall it is a quite amazing environment -- Oaklandish! as a local civic group and culture/apparel brand's name says --  with heavy industry mixed with old residential, easy hop one stop on BART train to downtown San Francisco, and a kind of widespread laboratory of living and building approaches. It's tragic and wounded, in ways, such as West Oakland being entirely redlined and blight-designated for many decades, from which it is just now recovering; the huge scale of homelessness, and terrible conditions a lot of people are in; and the widespread displacement of poorer and minority populations occurring in last 10-15 years. 

At the same time, as this article highlights one case of, it's also long been a very creative, generative, even joyous and liberatory environment where all kinds of wide-ranging social and living, progressive  exploration occurs, and has for 150+ years. West Oakland had a well-established major Black community back to the late 19thC, became an important national center of Black society, culture, communication because it was the endpoint of the Transcontinental railroad, and home base for the International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a key Black institution. Many of these porters were able to save money and buy homes in West Oakland, one of the relatively few urban areas in the country where that was possible, and this helped seed generations of Black community and enterprise there.. 

West Oakland was a key founding center and base for the Black Panther Party, and other extraordinary social organizing movements. Including more recently the Moms 4 Housing occupation & organizing for housing rights, which began with occupation of a vacant, investor-owned house on Magnolia Street under 2 blocks from where I lived.

Apologies for my effusion -- the area around the village featured in Guardian article means a lot of time, gives me a lot of ongoing inspiration and food for thought though I haven't been there in person for 2.5 years. I am currently putting together an essay / chapter about West Oakland shelter/housing explorations, for the Village Buildings project (see:, and may visit and stay there in the next few weeks on a trip to California. 
Anyway, great article, thank you Angie for sharing. 
cheers, Tim 

Tim McCormick
Moderator PDX Shelter Forum, Editor at HousingWiki,
Organizer at Village Collaborative
Portland, Oregon 

On Tue, May 11, 2021 at 5:27 AM Angie Gilbert <kaytayang@...> wrote:
Tucked under a highway overpass in West Oakland, just beyond a graveyard of charred cars and dumped debris, lies an unexpected refuge. There’s a collection of beautiful, small structures built from foraged materials. There’s a hot shower, a fully stocked kitchen and health clinic. There’s a free ...

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