Last week, St. Vincent de Paul Executive Director Terry McDonald had no idea that new housing units would be delivered for the nonprofit on Nov. 10 that could be used as transitional housing for the homeless.
But about two days ago, McDonald received a phone call from Mindy Rex, owner of Boise-based Pacific Housing Partners, which does modular housing construction for immediate housing needs, such as wildfire recovery.
The housing pods, manufactured in Boise, arrived in Eugene, weeks before winter. The sudden agreement between St. Vinnies and Pacific Housing Partners is a creative solution for the region’s lack of transitional housing units for the homeless, McDonald says.
And the new housing units in Eugene are — in some ways — thanks to Portland.
“Fortunately for the city of Eugene, the city of Portland wasn’t particularly interested in finding a place to put them to demonstrate them,” he says. “The day before yesterday, she called me and said, ‘Terry how ‘bout it?’ And I said, ‘Bring ‘em down, I’ll find a place for them.’”
Before moving to Boise, Rex says she lived in Portland, where she worked with providing affordable housing financing at the Network for Oregon Affordable Housing nonprofit and later with Wells Fargo.
Rex says she initially offered the module units to Portland because the homelessness crisis is so severe there. The city of Portland never responded to her offer. “My goal is to make sure we’re housing people this winter,” she adds, so she called McDonald. “He is guaranteed to make good use of them.
McDonald says he acted immediately because there are thousands of people experiencing homelessness right now and the winter season is weeks away. “How many people are going to be subject to bad inclement weather, living in tents outside? A lot,” he adds. “When this opportunity came out and the cost was free, why not make a run at it.”
McDonald says the city of Eugene allowed St. Vinnies to have the pods at 4th and Garfield. Before the units can be occupied, St. Vinnies has to connect the site to sewage, water and electricity.
He says when choosing the initial tenants for the pod housing, the nonprofit has staff who will locate individuals who meet the criteria of stability and the potential to move out.
“The best thing that happens is that you get people off the street into something that is warm and dry,” McDonald says. “That’s a win for me.”
Rex says her company is offering St. Vinnie’s the housing pod units for free through winter, but neither McDonald or Rex talked about long-term rent costs yet.
The housing pods with the common space won’t be permanent supportive housing, he says. But it will serve as transitional housing. “It gets people stabilized and safe but not permanent,” he adds.
In addition to the two housing units, the sites will have a common-space pod, which includes a kitchen, bathroom and a washer and dryer. The common-space pod also has a serving window that Rex says could be used by a St. Vinnie’s worker, for example, if COVID precautions made it impossible for tenants to use the common space for themselves.
Rex says the common-space pod unit costs about $100,000 to manufacture. She didn’t provide a number for the six-unit dorm-style housing units, saying it cost more than the common space pod. The company’s pods, such as the common space pod, could also be used as an accessory dwelling unit, she says, which could address the larger housing crisis in the Pacific Northwest.
The pods are similar to traditional stick-built housing, Rex says. The units have two-by-six walls and siding and are durable.
Each housing unit in the building has six individual bedrooms with space for a single bed. The pod building has two bathrooms. “It’s better than a wet tent,” Rex says of the size of the bedroom.
The 4th and Garfield site should have units for 12 individuals with the two pods.
Addressing homelessness will take creativity like what Pacific Housing Partners does with its housing units, McDonald says.
“Coming up with solutions today will require more creativity and that’s what I like about this. It’s a creative answer that the private sector came up with,” he adds. “If it works, find a way to get it rolled out to get more of these units out.”
St. Vinnie’s Egan Warming Center has two new-volunteer orientations scheduled for Nov. 18 and 23 both 6:30 to 8 pm via Zoom.
This article has been updated. An older version said 4th and Garfield wasn’t a Safe Sleep Site, but St. Vinnies says the site is one of the city’s five designated spots and will have 90 tents in a warehouse along with the existing neighboring site that has RVs and car camping.