Frequently Asked Questions
What is Opportunity Village Eugene?
Opportunity Village Eugene (OVE) is a transitional micro-housing community located in Eugene, Oregon. It opened as a pilot project on city-owned land in August of 2013, and has since served more than 100 otherwise unhoused individuals and couples. The 30 micro-homes range from 60-80 square feet in size, and are supported by common cooking, gathering, restroom, and laundry facilities. The village is self-managed by its residents with oversight and support provided by our non-profit, SquareOne Villages.
How did it get started?
OVE grew out of the Occupy Movement in the Fall of 2011, where an encampment of protesters allowed for many of Eugene’s otherwise housed activists to develop better relations with the city’s unhoused community. While the tent city was eventually shut down, its presence had galvanized public concern around homelessness, resulting in mayor-appointed task force focused on developing recommendations for “new and innovative” approaches to the issue.
The task force produced a total of eight recommendations, the first of which was to “direct city staff to work with community members to identify potential sites in order to establish a safe and secure place to be... independently financed with oversight by a not-for-profit organization or agency.”
A group called the Homeless Solutions Committee began to meet independently to ensure this recommendation was carried out, and in July of 2012, members of this committee registered Opportunity Village Eugene as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. The organization has since changed its name to SquareOne Villages, after taking on additional villages.
Following a series of concerted efforts to build broad political support for the village concept, our City Council passed a motion to “Authorize the city manager to take the steps necessary to locate a pilot project for a low-cost micro-housing project for homeless individuals at the city-owned North Garfield site for a period not to exceed October 1, 2014.” The steps to be taken by the city included: 1) selection of a non-profit to operate the pilot project, 2) enter into a lease agreement with that organization, and 3) consult with that organization as it prepares an application for a conditional use permit for the site.
How was it permitted?
OVE was permitted as a “homeless shelter” land use, which required a conditional use permit for the light industrial zoning of the site (Eugene land use code only permits homeless shelters in industrial or mixed use employment zones, and requires a conditional use permit).
The City of Eugene decided to take a hands-on approach and actively worked with our organization to achieve our vision while meeting all applicable building codes. They interpreted the tiny homes to be “temporary structures” regulated under ORSC Section 107, and as “sleeping units” rather than “dwelling units.” As a result, the homes meet code requirements for structural strength, fire safety, means of egress, and ventilation, but were granted flexibility around foundation and utility requirements, which helped p keep costs to a minimum.
How was the mirco-housing built?
Rather than following a traditional development process OVE partnered with residents, volunteers, and skilled builders who worked together to develop the village incrementally. After receiving a key to the site in mid-August 2013, the first five structures were built in the first day, and the rest of the village was built over the course of nine months on a shoestring budget. During the first “big build” event, volunteers and residents also built ten raised garden beds, and dug a 200 foot long, two foot deep trench to run water and electricity to the site where the kitchen and bathroom facility would eventually stand. About a dozen of the first residents moved in within the first few days, some staying in tents while they helped build their own shelters.
Each structure is composed of a kit of modular, pre-manufactured panels, constructed in an off-site workshop. The panels utilize standard dimensions of lumber and plywood, which reduces waste, simplifies the construction, and makes donation of materials easier. Once a few panel kits were complete, they were transported to the site to be assembled by teams of volunteers. The structures can be built for about $2,000 in materials.
What is the criteria and process for becoming a villager?
In order to be admitted to the village, all applicants must be (1) currently unhoused, (2) be willing to live according to the community agreement, (3) be willing and able to participate in the day to day life and governance of the village, (4) be willing to undergo a criminal check and interview process, and (5) must be 18 years of age.
To live at OVE, you need to pick up and fill out an application at the village (111 N. Garfield St). A vetting committee, composed of several residents and one SOV board member, then reviews the applications and conducts interviews.
Once admitted, residents must complete a 4-week probationary period before they can be fully accepted as a villager. While there is no limit to how long someone can stay at the village, the average length of stay is under two years.
What does it mean to be self-governed and managed?
Self-governance is a core value of OVE, and the success of the Village rests on the participation of those who live there. Each week residents are expected to complete 10 volunteer hours and attend the weekly village meeting. During these meetings, residents discuss issues of common interest and vote on policies and procedures for operating and managing the Village.
An Operating Agreement with the City of Eugene sets some basic parameters that the Village must follow, and then a Community Agreement and Village Manual outline further internal policies and procedures of the community. A Village Council of 5 to 7 members is elected to uphold these agreements.
SquareOne Villages has an Oversight Committee that provides ongoing support in this regard. In 2016 we also hired a quarter-time staff member to work with residents to help organize and maintain the essential functions of village.
Are supportive services provided?
OVE does not have on-site services or management, which greatly reduces our operating costs. Instead, we work to partner with existing service providers and other institutions in our community in attempts to connect our residents with resources. Examples include White Bird (human services), CAHOOTS (crisis management and conflict mediation), Womenspace (domestic violence), FOOD for Lane County (we’re a food pantry site), several disciplines within the University of Oregon and Lane Community College, and several faith-based communities throughout the area. In 2016 we partnered with Portland State University, and now have an ongoing Masters of Social Work intern that helps residents set and follow-through on housing related goals.
What did it cost and how is it funded?
Start-up costs were funded with around $98,000 in private cash donations and small grants, plus an estimated $114,000 of in-kind materials and labor. City-owned land is leased to our non-profit for a nominal fee of $1/year.
In 2016, our annual operating budget amounted to around $30,000 for the year—including expenses for utilities, maintenance, bus passes for all residents, insurance. While the first couple years in operation were supported by volunteers, we also added $15,000 in annual personnel expenses in 2016—including a quarter-time village coordinator, a social work intern from Portland State University, and a small amount of our executive director’s time.
This all pencils out to about $5/person/night—or in other words, one of the most cost-effective shelter models in the country. While the village does not charge rent, residents pay a $30/month utility fee to help offset operating expenses. The remainder of the budget is funded by ongoing fundraising in our local community
Why is OVE needed?
Similar to all cities and counties in the United States, there is a severe lack of both transitional and affordable housing our area. 1,451 people were counted in the 2o16 Lane County homeless point-in-time count, of which 934 people were without any shelter at all. (And it’s always worth noting that this is an underestimate, given the inherent difficulties in quantifying this issue).
While traditional homeless shelters are generally cheaper to construct than conventional low-income housing units, they rank on par with the streets as a living preference because shelters often enforce strict rules and do not include private space. A transitional tiny house village offers a cost-effective means for providing intermediate shelter option while preserving individual autonomy, privacy, and responsibility.
Low-income housing developments often cost upwards of $150,000 per unit, not including the cost of land land. Because of extraordinary flexibility in building codes, all 30 of the little houses here costs less than one of those units, and it didn’t cost the taxpayers a dime. While housing conditions are not ideal, OVE ensures residents’ basic needs— stability, security, privacy, and the ability to stay warm and dry—are met; a vast improvement from being without any shelter.
What are OVE’s greatest needs and how can I contribute?
The success of OVE depends on ongoing support from the surrounding community. To help out financially, please consider becoming an Opportunity Village Sustainer with a recurring donation of $5/month or more.
If you would like to make a material contribution to OVE, a full list of needed materials can be found on our website. These gifts are received at the Village at 111 N. Garfield Street.
Lastly if you have a specific idea for how you could contribute your time and skills to the Village, please fill out our Volunteer Form.
Can I visit OVE to learn more?
Yes! We are happy to host tours to those who are interested and suggest a donation of $10/person to help support the village; or better yet, become an Opportunity Village Sustainer! You can request to schedule a tour here.