Lewis & Clark College students build and plan to donate a tiny house: ‘We have a housing shortage’

Most college students can relate to living in a small space, from a dorm room to sharing a place with roommates. Undergraduate students at the liberal arts college Lewis & Clark in Portland take their consciousness to the next level: in addition to their academic work, they learn carpentry and other construction skills in their spare time to build a compact house to give away.

Members of the college’s Tiny House Club have already laid the wood flooring, installed the frame and hammered the roof of a 128 square foot house on wheels that will help a person with a developmental disability live on their own.

The portable housing will be donated to Community Vision, a Portland-area nonprofit that provides individualized housing, supported living, employment and homeownership services to Oregonians with disabilities.

“It’s wonderful when young people [like the Lewis & Clark College volunteers] reflect on these issues and help us overcome the stigma and the idea that people with developmental disabilities cannot live independently,” said Community Vision Executive Director Jennifer Knapp.

“In fact, people with developmental disabilities do better when they are integrated into our vibrant community,” she said, adding that people who want more independence enjoy individual housing rather than living. in multi-family or group housing.

Obstacles: The high cost of real estate in Oregon and a long-standing housing shortage. Even alternatives to a single-family home are expensive.

An accessory self-contained dwelling unit (ADU) on a foundation costs more than $200,000 in the Portland area, and a tiny house on a trailer costs about $80,000 to build and outfit, Knapp said.

The Tiny House Club doesn’t have that much money. The group received $16,500 this school year from a fund that supports student organizations and activities.

What they have are 35 students committed to building an energy-efficient and sustainable home.

“We have [underused] land and we have a housing shortage,” said Elijah Black, a junior economics major at Lewis & Clark who co-founded the Tiny House Club two years ago with Mari Johnson, a senior who plans to get a bachelor of arts. arts in physics this year.

“There is a need,” Johnson agreed. “Community Vision can immediately place our little house.”

The hope is to have the house that is smaller than a parking space completed this year, despite pandemic-induced supply chain challenges, the steep learning curve for students and their overloaded schedules.

“We’ll do everything we can by December and then donate it,” Black said.

This luxury tiny house in Southeast Portland has two beds and one bath.Airbnb

More than a novelty or a fad fueled by reality TV shows, homes under 400 square feet make environmental and economic sense and can help stave off the housing crisis, studies show.

A presentation at Lewis & Clark College by Stephen Aiguier of Portland-based design-build firm Green Hammer included a report from Oregon showing that downsizing the home is the most beneficial factor in reducing gas emissions greenhouse and construction waste.

Well-designed tiny homes typically have low maintenance and utility costs, factors that can make them affordable, especially during an economic downturn.

A movement for small, mortgage-free, homemade homes grew during the Great Recession after the housing market collapsed in December 2007. Interest in small-scale, low-cost housing such as family suites, motorhomes and van conversions was revitalized in 2020 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic when millions of American workers lost their jobs.

Having a second small dwelling in the backyard filled a need when adult children returned to the family home after businesses and colleges closed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and several generations decided to live together.

To combat the anemic supply of living space in Portland, the city in 2021 approved the expansion of single-room housing and group living arrangements, allowed landlords to have two ADUs, and legalized the long-term living in motorhomes and tiny houses on wheels parked on residential properties.

Using funds received from Lewis & Clark College activity fees, the Tiny House Club purchased a 16-foot-long Iron Eagle trailer (approximately $5,260) and paid $79 for Sweet Pea house plans from PAD Tiny Houses, Portland’s original resource for small footprints. construction.

PAD co-founder Dee Williams wrote her best-selling book, “The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir,” in her house on wheels, where the total floor space is no more than a full size bed sheet.

Lewis & Clark’s tiny house will have a kitchen, bathroom and loft bed platform under its pitched roof.

The structure’s frame and walls are made of new two-by-four lumber and plywood to “make sure it’s square,” Johnson said. The club hopes to use salvaged materials like recycled denim insulation and repurposed wood for countertops.

Portland Little House hero Dee Williams wrote "The Big Tiny: a memoir constructed by myself" (blue rider press)

Reclaimed wood can be used as a counter.Janet Eastman

Adam Ferrel, the college’s chief carpenter, oversees the project.

Johnson and Black say working on the tiny house has given them and other club members confidence and life skills.

“Some of us didn’t know how to use power tools before,” Black said, “but now we’re teaching others.”

Johnson added, “I really believe that in order to be well-balanced, you have to know that you can work with your hands and build something.”

— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072

[email protected] | @janeteastman

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