Only in Portlandia: Multnomah County, Oregon, has decided to solve its homelessness problem by . . . housing the homeless in the backyards of Multnomah County homeowners.
The one thing to be said for this idea is that homeowner participation is voluntary—at least for now. Here's the AP report:
Faced with an intractable homeless problem, officials in Portland are thinking inside the box.
A handful of homeless families will soon move into tiny, government-constructed modular units in the backyards of willing homeowners. Under the pilot program taking effect this summer, the homeowners will take over the heated, fully plumbed tiny houses in five years and can use them for rental income.
What could go wrong?
That's what you might be thinking, dear reader, but some 200 Portland-area homeowners have expressed interest in the program, which is being marketed as a way for owners to monetize their "underutilized" lawns and patios, just as they can monetize their "underutilized" spare bedrooms by letting them out via Airbnb and their "underutilized" cars by driving for Uber. Indeed, Mary Li, director of Multnomah County's Idea Lab, used exactly that word.
"[T]here's underutilized space in people's backyards. What if we provide a lower-cost—but very habitable option—in people's backyards?"
And here's an only-in-Portland expression of enthusiasm for the program by homeowner and community-college social worker Becca Love:
"Just because you don't have housing, it doesn't make you a bad person or more likely to be a bad tenant. In fact, you'd be a better tenant because you'd appreciate it."
So you might say that the new project, called A Place For You, represents two liberal fads in one: (a) the belief that the main problem of the homeless is that they lack homes; and (b) tiny houses.
As anyone who has ever been to downtown Portland can attest, after threading his or her way past the bodies young and old lounging or snoozing on the sidewalk, Portland indeed has a homeless problem. According to the AP, some 4,000 people sleep either in shelters or in the street every night.
The city declared a state of emergency last year that made the latter practice legal. Now, some cynics might point out that the city, which is the seat of Multnomah County, has brought the problem onto itself via its ultra-hip population's generous benefits for those who live outdoors. Take this 2015 article in Oregon Live noting that a full fourth of Portland's homeless population moved to the city within the preceding two years:
Being homeless isn't easy, no matter where you are. But is it easier in Portland?
"People are going to get mad at me for saying this, but yes. Absolutely yes," said Rhona Mahl, outreach director for Transitional Youth, a Christian-focused nonprofit that provides free meals for young homeless people downtown and transitional housing for young homeless men in Beaverton, Vancouver and rural Clark County….
"Portland allows things other cities don't allow. Portland provides things other cities don't provide so readily," Mahl said….
More than a dozen organizations offer homeless men and women free meals, clothing swaps and, if not shelter, at least easy access to sleeping bags and tarps….
Portland-area leaders have opted to err on the side of compassion. That's partly because of the city's more progressive politics. "You can't be a liberal state — everything is OK, keep Portland weird — and not attract a certain population," said Teri Gant, who runs Father's Heart Street Ministry in Oregon City and has ministered to homeless men and women in Portland for almost 20 years….
Perhaps it's that desire to "keep Portland weird," but few of the Multnomah Countians who have expressed interest in having homeless families living in their back yards seem to be alert to possible negative outcomes.
What happens if the tenants repeatedly clog the kitchen sink (upkeep will be the homeowner's responsibility), throw their trash into the owner's rosebushes, invite a crew of dodgy friends over for an all-night party, or just plain gets tired of living in a tiny house and decides to squat in the owner's full-size house while the owner is on vacation?
And beware: Owners who get sick of the deal and oust their "tenants" before the five years are up will be liable for the tiny houses' construction costs. They're not cheap: Mulnomah county will be paying $75,000 apiece for those glorified toolsheds."