I think the feasibility of the Slavin Village project will depend upon two basic determinations: Can it pass city permitting requirements and can it be built at a low enough cost. We want to make these determinations early on and I think this can be done with a conversation with Portland’s Bureau of Development Services (BDS) using their ‘Early Assistance’ service. With this service you get a 15-minute (but hopefully more) video conference with a city planner/expert to describe the project and expose potential showstopper problems upfront. (See: https://www.portland.gov/bds/zoning-land-use/early-assistance Also: https://www.portland.gov/construction-and-development ). By doing this, we also stand to build expertise on the overall process of creating a Tiny House Village (THV) that can be applied to future projects.
Here are design aspects (with my informal italicized comments) that I think need to be considered in a discussion with the BDS:
- Site Acquisition: Assuming it’s legally possible for the city to repurpose this dead-end street, the site will likely be either free or very inexpensive. If we have to pay, say, $200K or more, for a lot to site a THV, I think the cost per bed will be too high to make the model work. The advantage of a THV should be in ‘development agility’, i.e., in our ability to build them inexpensively and quickly in places that are infeasible for conventional development – like Slavin Rd.
- Design work: Need to draft building plans adequate for BDS review and get the engineering stamp of approval.
- Electrical and Water Utilities hook-up and distribution: While it would be nice to go 'off-grid' and build a fully self-sufficient village, I don’t think this is feasible for a THV sited within the city. Yes, we could design in solar panels and a storage battery for electricity needs but when the winter cold temperatures come the units are going to need AC power for heat. The site would also need AC power for a washer and dryer. So, solar power would be appropriate only to augment AC power and reduce electricity bills. Regarding freshwater and wastewater utilities, you definitely need to hook into the City’s water and sewer systems (wastewater has to have somewhere to go). Given its location, the Slavin Rd. site will likely be close to electrical and water access points. It is unlikely that there would be any unusual expense in running those utilities to and throughout the THV.
- Construction of walkways, common areas, and pads for housing unit placement: The Slavin Rd. dead-end area might already be paved providing ready-to-go walkways and house pads. Pavement and ground stability needs to be assessed.
- Housing Unit Fabrication and Installation: The ideal model is: Off-site fabrication of finished tiny houses and common structures (e.g., kitchen, toilet, shower, and washing units). Then transport units to site and place them onto ready ground pads. All units to meet structural and safety standards and are inspected and approved at fabrication site before being transported to the site. To speed up development time, off-site unit fabrication work is done in parallel with site preparation. I think it is most cost effective to design living units that are built on skids. Just trailer them in, slide them onto a pad. It appears that the new S2HC building codes may apply to THVs where the units are on wheels – is that correct?
- On-site construction of entry gate and any perimeter fencing needed for security:
- On-site construction of garbage / recycling collection area: Likely just need a simple rectangular corral with doors.
- Internet and Phone: Internet and phone needs can likely be met through a single 5G wireless subscription that is WiFi’ed throughout the THV.
- Parking: Parking capacity needs to be investigated. It looks like some parking space can be had on the public north end of Slavin Rd. before the barricade.
- Life Safety / Fire Safety: Acquisition and installation of fire extinguishers, smoke alarms, escape route signage
In the process of thinking about Tiny House Village design, I concluded that we really cannot design a THV and determine feasibility without first knowing what it is intended to achieve for its residents. This led me to think that we probably need to define at least two THV types, each tailored to a particular need: A short-term THV (STHV) intended for 0 - 2 year residencies, and a long-term/permanent residency THV (PTHV).
The purpose of an STHV is to give a resident the breathing room to work toward getting into an apartment, whereas a PTHV is where a person can live for however long they want and create a community. While a precise definition of the design of each THV type is needed, generally speaking, a living unit in an STHV would be small, spartan and the village would offer fewer community amenities (remember, it’s short-term). You would likely squeeze as many STHV units as possible into a given site to get to the lowest cost-per-bed. An STHV would probably be funded and managed by a public housing agency and have low or fully subsidized rent cost.
A PTHV would have larger living units (though still tiny) that are aesthetic and comfortable with more community amenities, like patios, a commons area, workshop spaces, etc. It would cost more to develop a PTHV, and rent would be higher. Fewer living units per given site. A PTHV could be publicly or privately funded and managed, and potentially, units could be privately owned.
As opposed to large apartment complexes and towers that make sense in purely economic terms (i.e., you can house more people per given lot size) with THV’s I believe we have the opportunity to favor humanistic terms and create housing that supports the innate desire to build community and be creative, something that I do not think large apartment complexes are conducive to. I believe that, in many situations, a well-designed THV will foster the success of its residents to where the need for supporting social services is greatly lessened, representing a huge savings for the city over the long term.
Andy, what do you think about having a discussion with BDS Early Assistance?