Medford, Oregon adopts Opportunity Village model!
In November, the Medford City Council unanimously approved a site for Hope Village, a tiny house community modeled after our very own Opportunity Village!
Organizers used and modified the Opportunity Village application, community agreement, and village manual to fit their vision for Hope Village. The City of Medford utilized our operating agreement with the City of Eugene as a template, modifying it only slightly. The recommendation made to the Medford City Council was, “if it passed through Eugene’s attorneys it should be good enough for us." City Council members commented that they felt confident moving forward because it was a well thought out plan.
The initial vision for Hope Village was formed back in 2013. "It took a lot of hard work and perseverance!" said one project organizer.
The site approved for Hope Village is small and narrow, so organizers have planned for 14-units utilizing a duplex design. The dwellings will be supported by a common kitchen, bathroom, and yurt. If the pilot project proves successful, Hope Village to add additional homes in a second phase.
A Ground Breaking ceremony is scheduled for December 12th at noon, and organizers plan to open the village by the end of January.
How did they get there?
Heather Everrett became chair of the Jackson County Homeless Task Force in March of 2013. She visited Opportunity Village in Eugene in November 2013, just a few months after the community broke ground. She was inspired by her interactions with OVE residents and organizers, and became committed to bringing a similar citizen-driven initiative to Medford. Heather returned to share her experience with the rest of the Task Force, which she describes here:
A new sub-committee “Highly Affordable Housing Alternatives” (HAHA) was started to build relationships with the local homeless community in an effort to empower them to help in the planning and development process of the village. Over the next several months Heather ate lunch frequently at St Vincent DePaul to gain the friendship and trust of a core group of homeless residents. This core group even volunteered to help with the annual homeless Point In Time count in January of 2014. Because of their help it was the most successful count Jackson County had experienced thus far.
HAHA meetings were held in the St. Vincent De Paul dining room once a month after lunch and chaired by Medford homeless resident Michael LaConte. This committee began looking for property and planning to create “Haven Park” campground by the homeless for the homeless, and “Hope Village” tiny house community. It soon became evident that there would have to be a non-profit to take the lead in developing these projects into reality.
In July 2014, Heather was one of the first to purchase Tent City Urbanism, authored by SquareOne Villages’ Project Director, Andrew Heben. She ordered dozens of copies that were distributed throughout the community, including a copy for her boss, Chad McComas, Executive Director of Rogue Retreat.
Once Chad read the book he was convinced of the value of these projects and more books were ordered for the Rogue Retreat Board of Directors to see if they would agree to become the sponsoring non-profit of these projects. After reading Andrew’s book the Board was interested in learning more about camps and villages.
In April 2015, Heather organized a second visit to Opportunity Village, this time bringing a bus load of representatives from Rogue Retreat and the Jackson County Homeless Task Force. They returned to Medford with even greater focus and determination to get start something similar, and began to raise community awareness around their efforts.
Donations were raised and The Shed Guys in Central Point Oregon built our first prototype tiny house in June of 2015. Lessons that were learned on the site visit to Opportunity Village were put into the design of our prototype. The village residents expressed that they appreciated the design of the Conestoga Huts in the village that have a front porch and a door that opens outward. Our model tiny house was designed to have an 8’x10’ interior featuring a heavy duty loft with a 4’ covered porch and a door that swings outward. Rogue Retreat, the HAHA Committee and St Vincent De Paul volunteers unveiled our model tiny house design by walking beside it in the Central Point 4th of July Freedom Festival Parade. After the promotion at the parade the tiny house remained on display at The Shed Guys.
Next they began a search for City or County owned property on which to build Haven Park and Hope Village.
After an exhaustive search with no leads the planning committee began to change the focus from leasing land to purchasing property. The committee began to prioritize the creation of Hope Village over Haven Park as tiny houses seemed to be a much more attractive option to gain community support than tent platforms. In February of 2016 a ½ acre vacant site was identified for sale for $260,000 in Medford that would be an ideal site
A fundraising campaign was launched shortly thereafter to raise the money necessary to acquire the site. The group developed what they called the “Hope Village Overnight Challenge," describe by Heather below:
For this event a kiosk inside the mall and space in the mall parking lot were rented for a month and the tiny house was stationed outside near a portable restroom. Guests signed up to stay one night in the tiny house each night in the month of March as they shared their experience on social media and made phone calls to family and friends asking them to go to the Hope Village website and donate on their behalf. The event was a news sensation, with all local news channels covering the event and interviewing project organizers. Approximately $25,000 was raised in the month of March from this event.
The Hope Village Steering Committee was formed—including board and staff members of Rogue Retreat and other community volunteers—to take on the role and responsibilities of planning Hope Village. The group had taken the time to build the political will in their community, and it soon paid off as they refocused on identifying City owned land that could be leased for a nominal fee.
During a Medford City Council study session on homelessness that same month, Council Chair Dick Gordon commented that it’s a shame that the non-profit organization is trying to raise a quarter of a million dollars to purchase property for this pilot project when the City of Medford may be in a position to partner with them... Councilor Gordon spoke of a small parcel of City owned property that he had worked with Mr. Hansen on previously as a potential feeding site for the homeless.
As word reached the surrounding businesses about the proposed site for Hope Village there arose opposition to the location of the project and eventually City Council directed City Staff to research other possible options for available land. There was a very short list of possibilities presented. All were researched and ruled out for various reasons.
At the City Council meeting on September 15, 2016 Councilors Daniel Bunn and Mike Zarosinski came up with a plan to direct Public Works staff to see if there was any space available at the City of Medford Service Center. Deputy Public Works Director Bryce Perkins took the Hope Village Steering Committee on a tour of the Service Center location on N. Columbus Avenue and showed them 2 possible sites. Both sites are slated for construction in 3-5 years as Columbus Avenue is expanded. The first site at the north end of the property was in wetland mitigation and unusable until that process was complete which may take a year.
The other site is a small .4 acre triangle located across from the service center. Although small, the committee felt that it was a good spot to begin their village as they prove their concept and look for a permanent site. An offer was made to City Council in October 2016. The council asked City Attorney Lori Cooper to work with Rogue Retreat to draw up an operational agreement and bring it back to City Council for an official vote. In a landmark decision on November 17, 2016 at 7 pm in Medford City Hall unanimously voted to sign the operational agreement. We will begin to build Hope Village in time for the cold winter months and plan to open by the end of January.
Needless to say, we at SquareOne Villages are excited to see the village model adopted in another city in Oregon, and are proud to have played a role in helping to make it happen. We look forward to watching Hope Village take root!
(includes application, community agreement, village manual, operating agreement, and site plan)