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'Comedy of errors' delays tiny houses

A "comedy of errors" has led to unfortunate delays for a pilot project that would provide tiny houses for the homeless, known as Hope Village.

Originally scheduled to open in January, the cluster of 14 tiny houses at the corner of Columbus and McAndrews avenues in Medford still doesn't have a definite opening date because of a series of complications, many of which were created by well meaning supporters.

"It's really breaking our hearts," said Chad McComas, executive director of the homeless advocate group Rogue Retreat. "We're getting closer and closer. I will not put a date for opening. Every time we put a date, we get in trouble."

Last November, the city leased a strip of property to Rogue Retreat. In the meantime, supporters negotiated leases on three adjacent properties where a welcome center, community room and parking area are to be located.

As a result of the expanded footprint, Medford City Council will meet July 20 to discuss amending its agreement for the project. The number of tiny houses hasn't increased, but the expanded size of the facility is more than the original agreement allowed. 

In addition to recent delays, rain stalled the project over the winter, and a fence that is required to surround Hope Village won't be installed until July 24 because fence companies have been slammed with orders from cannabis grows.

On one of the leased properties, the house that is being remodeled for the welcome center and offices is connected to a septic system. Under city rules, because of the change of use, it must be connected to the sewer at a cost of $25,000.

Undaunted, McComas said he wanted to thank the 200 volunteers who have been working on the project and vowed to get it opened as soon as possible once the hurdles are cleared.

He said many of the changes to the plans were intended to make it the best facility possible to serve as an example to the community.

"It's a 'comedy of errors,' " McComas said. "It will be a good village. It'll be a model the whole city will be proud of."

He said the biggest impact for the delays is on homeless people, who have been waiting for a place to call home.

The delays have meant that two of the homeless tenants have found other accommodations, though other candidates are waiting.

As a result of the changes, the cost of the project has ballooned to $350,000. Originally, $240,000 was raised in donations, but a $100,000 state grant has been received to help ease the pain of the increased costs.

McComas said most of the homeless people he sees are locals who have fallen on hard times through job loss, mental issues or drug abuse.

"They can change everything if they have a place to be," he said. "What I see in them is they've lost all hope."

City officials have worked on ways to overcome some of the hurdles faced by Rogue Retreat.

Matt Brinkley, Medford planning director, said that because the other lots were acquired, it changed the nature of the facility, which requires an amendment to the agreement with the city.

"There are a number of other issues that have to be addressed," Brinkley said. "We're hoping to have something to take to the City Council that has something definitive."

Kelly Madding, deputy city manager, said the city has been working closely with McComas and other homeless advocates to get them through the process.

One requirement they face is to pave the parking area and provide landscaping around it, but city staff has recommended supporting a waiver for this requirement, she said.

Madding said the city, operating under Oregon law, considers the project an urban campground.

While the community room and welcome center will have electricity and running water, the 8-by-10-foot houses won't be connected to utilities, though they will be insulated.

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Pastor Chad McComas, a homeless advocate, says Hope Village has been delayed again and that work is underway to bring the buildings up to city code. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]
Steve Williams of Rogue River works Thursday on a tiny house at Hope Village in Medford. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]