By Midge Pierce

Neighbors and online groups have been abuzz as hundreds of homeowners have stepped forward to volunteer for Multnomah County’s pilot program to construct tiny homes (essentially ADUs) in their yards.

In exchange, participants agree to rent the ADUs out to homeless families for five years. The caveat is that if participants break the contract before the commitment is up, they will need to repay the building cost.

The county believes the program, called A Place for You, can quickly build tiny homes for $75K, less than the $32,000 a year currently spent to shelter a family. Costs for four homes in the experimental phase are estimated at $300,000.

The concept was greeted with initial enthusiasm. Even skeptics praised the proposal as a creative way to provide affordable housing without wholesale demolition of neighborhoods. Then citizens took a closer look and determined that the price per square foot seemed excessively high.

Questions beyond the steep price of each unit arose about what happens at the end of five years. Will property owners be required to pay the moving costs of families in keeping with recently enacted city rental policies? How will families be screened? What happens if there is a problem with a family? What impact will the county-funded tiny houses have on property taxes? Can the homes be moved elsewhere?

Laurelhurst resident John Liu started out as a proponent of the project as a good way to add housing to a neighborhood without tearing down existing houses. Having brought needy friends and families into his home before, he says, “Helping people is its own reward.”

Then, as he dug deeper, he decided the plan is not fully baked. “You grow by building something that lasts a long time and adding more every year – not by hastily building something temporary that requires you to start over every five years.”

The county has indicated the pilot program will be assessed before it is expanded.