PORTLAND, Ore. -- Portland has a homeless crisis, and you've got a backyard.
That, on its most basic level, is the logic behind a proposed pilot program introduced by Multnomah County this week.
It’s called “A Place For You”, and officials are looking to nail down four backyards, upon which they can place four Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) by the end of June. An ADU is what some people may call a granny flat, or a tiny home minus wheels.
Mary Li, director of Multnomah County’s Community Services Division, says there’s a reason for the urgency when it comes to this, and other emerging ideas to address the needs of Portland’s homeless.
“We have a crisis with people living on the streets right now,” said Li. “We also, as a community, have invested phenomenal amounts of funding to build new affordable housing… That housing isn’t going to come online for people to move into for about two years now.”
So in the meantime, officials are putting their efforts into programs they can make happen now.
In this case, they’re asking homeowners with available land or yards to volunteer. Those who are chosen will be given a newly built accessory dwelling unit.
The county will hook it up to water and utilities, which they say will be paid for through energy assistance programs.
In addition, property taxes will be kept at or near status quo, they say, through an abatement program.
Then, they'll prescreen a homeless family to live there.
The homeowner’s commitment lasts five years, after which they can either walk away and keep the ADU at no additional cost or continue to allow the family to live on their property as a permanent tenant.
Li says the gift will be life-changing, especially for homeless parents, used to living in the shadows.
“They're desperately afraid that something will happen to their children, that eventually someone might take their children from them,” she said. “So they're working very hard to stay under the radar screen and make sure they're doing what they can to raise their children and have them be taken care of in the best way possible.”
But not everyone is onboard.
“That would be a terrible use of economics,” said Robert McCoullough, a longtime neighborhood activist in the Reed College area. “Let's say you put an ADU in someone's backyard. Fine. But how does that person get services? What we've done is we've warehoused them… What they desperately need is healthcare. What they desperately need is social work.”
Li said Thursday, homeowners applying for the program will be chosen based on a long, still changing list of criteria.
A big one, she said, is geography and proximity to social services and public transit.
The other issue, she said, is mitigating costs. Right now, it’s estimated each of the first four ADUs will cost $75,000.
Officials hope to bring that down and, eventually build 300 ADUs on Portland properties in the next year.