The issues of unaffordable housing and homelessness are inextricably linked – and affect cities everywhere. To facilitate the first step back into society, Andrew Heben co-founded Opportunity Village, a micro-housing project for the homeless of Eugene, Oregon.
For many homeless, it can be very hard to take the ‘first step’ back into society since private housing tends to be unaffordable. Opportunity Village Eugene aims to bring together the housed and unhoused based on an active collaboration.
The village of 30 micro-housing units accommodates former homeless who would not have been able to find their own place via the regular housing market.
“It is largely a response to the gap between the street and conventional housing options,” says co-founder Andrew Heben. “Opportunity Village Eugene can pull people out of a situation of homelessness and provide them with the basic needs of privacy, stability, and safety while offering them their own place.”
“You have to give back to the village”
Currently, Opportunity Village Eugene hosts about 35 residents in 30 single or double ‘tiny houses’ of 60 to 80 square feet. In some cases, residents themselves help to build their own house. While this housing is private, residents do share common utilities like the kitchen, washrooms, and laundry services.
To become a resident of Opportunity Village Eugene, people have to pass an application process and screening test. Opportunity Village thrives on a strong and close community, so future residents need to possess a degree of motivation and devotion to the community.
Heben says that “it takes a degree of cooperation and participation to make it into this type of housing model. One of the basic rules of Opportunity Village Eugene is that you have to give back to the village.”
Giving the people a sense of ownership
Every resident of this tiny house village needs to do 10 hours of volunteering per week, varying from desk duties to giving tours and attending community meetings. Volunteering contributes to — and strengthens — a sense of responsibility and community. It is this particular communal aspect that a lot of people tend to miss.
“You would think that a congregation of 30 otherwise homeless people would only lead to problems like crime and violence, but the opposite is true. When you give any group of people a sense of ownership over a place, they have an interest in making it work, especially when they have nowhere else to go. So, these people have an interest in creating a safe and healthy neighborhood, just like anyone else,” adds Heben.
The necessity of tiny living
The entire notion of Opportunity Village Eugene was catalyzed by the local Occupy movement and the persistence of tents within the local community.
After the Occupy movement had ended and people went back to being homeless, a special taskforce for homelessness solutions was established to make sure people received some form of shelter. Opportunity Village Eugene was born from this initiative: Starting out as a grassroots initiative and temporary project, it received full collaboration and an extension by the city.
While tiny house villages like Opportunity Village Eugene might sound like nothing more than a luxury version of tent cities, there is one other important aspect: As Heben notes, “tent cities are illegal and have to fight hard for their right of existence, whereas tiny house villages are tolerated and it is more a matter of ‘maintaining’ for residents.”
Heben says that although democratically organized tent cities have their roots in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, the phenomenon of tiny house villages has already spread across various US cities, from Utica (New York) all the way to Austin (Texas).
Interest from Canada and Australia
Currently, interest from other countries is growing as well, with Victoria in Canada and several Australian cities thinking about (or initiating) comparable initiatives.
“Tiny living spaces demonstrate a demand for diversity in housing options: They meet the needs of different types of people. The Tiny House Movement encapsulates the desire for a simpler housing option that may not require such high financial outlays and allows for more personal freedoms.”
As Heben acknowledges, tiny living is becoming more popular these days. Whether tent cities, tiny house villages, micro-lofts, or luxurious retreats – living in a (relatively) small space often correlates with lower living costs and an increase in personal freedom.
And although we are just talking tiny houses, it has become clear that this approach has huge scope for many different people, from homeless to refugees and others in need.
All images incl. the header image: SquareOne Villages