Tiny House Eviction: Yet Another Story in the Ongoing Battle to Live Affordably

Four days ago, I received a notification from the Bend City Code Enforcement essentially kicking my family and I out of our home of four years. I am married, and have two daughters- 3 and 5.

Our dream of living in a tiny house started five years ago, as I was contemplating extending my career in the Army. It made sense; a quality built easily trailerable home for my family that we could take to whatever post the Army decided to send us to next, and most importantly, it would allow us to save money. Junior enlisted members of the Army don’t make much, and this move allowed us to start saving again. I contacted Greg Parham of Rocky Mountain Tiny Houses, who graduated from the University of Texas School of Architecture and used to race mountain bikes with me.

We collaborated on design, and finally, in February of 2015, we were able to move in. It is a work of art: a 32 foot long gooseneck trailer built specifically to hold a house on top of it. The gooseneck holds bunk beds my late father-in-law and I built for my girls, and Greg and his crew labored over the rest of it, giving us what we wanted: affordable housing that didn’t negatively impact the environment while we saved for a real house. We stayed in the Fort Bliss RV park the first year for $420/month. It was a good start, but the Army wasn’t working out. I wanted to fly, and as it turns out, Bend, OR has one of the few flight schools left in the nation that veterans can use the GI Bill for, so we packed up, and towed our tiny house from El Paso to Bend. We stayed in an RV park the first year we were here, now a family of four, and I started to attend Central Oregon Community College to pursue flight.

My wife is a registered dietitian, and started looking for work when our youngest turned 6 months old, but it was not a successful endeavor. We payed our $520/month while at the RV park in town, but started to feel the need for a little extra space. Rent is high here. It’s even worse when you’re living on the GI Bill while trying to raise a family and fly and study for helicopter certifications. Eventually, my wife found work, but daycare isn’t cheap, and working part-time to be able to spend time with the kids barely covered $1000/month daycare costs. Really, all we wanted was a small piece of land to park on so we could breathe, with a plan to build a (small) house eventually. We came upon our current property and it felt as though we were finally catching a break. A large house sat on 2.3 acres, and the land of opportunity opened it’s doors for a brief, shining moment.

One of the main concerns I’ve heard from fellow veterans attending the college is the price of rent here. Several friends live in Redmond, or even Prineville and commute to Bend daily, sometimes having to make a couple of trips between class and flight labs. Redmond is about 20 minutes out, and Prineville is about a 45 minute drive. The cost of gas doesn’t help save much, the GI Bill doesn’t go that far, and part-time work doesn’t add to the stress of flight school. The house we found was a 4-3 and not unreasonably priced for Bend. Here was a chance for my girls to have a proper yard, and a chance for me to give back to fellow veterans.

We got the house with a little help, and rented out four rooms for $550/month. That is cheap for Bend, especially when it’s a 2400 sq ft house. It didn’t quite cover the mortgage, but we end up paying less than a spot at the RV park. Two of my renters were using service benefits, and it makes me happy knowing that I can provide a good home with like-minded people transitioning out of the military back into civilian life. A basement meant we could store more stuff that accumulates as life continues, irrigation meant we could grow a beautiful garden. A garage houses my bicycles that once carried me from Austin, TX to Anchorage, AK as part of the inaugural Texas 4000 for Cancer. I’ve completed my Associate of Applied Science – Professional Pilot Helicopter, Associate of Applied Science – UAS Operations (Unmanned Aerial Systems), and completed a certificate for GIS (Geographic Information Systems) in my time at the college, since I started attending in January 2016, and found a great job out of school. I’ve been there about six months, and have been looking forward to sitting down with an accountant, and figuring out a financial path to build an authorized ADU, to move in, now that I’ve finally got some stable income as a GIS Technician. I get to make maps, and have time to spend with my girls, and for the first time since I’ve been in college, am happy with the risks taken to find a job I truly enjoy.

I’ve been talking with the city planning department, looking at building something (affordable) I can use to get my property off of septic and on to sewer, and my growing girls into something more permanent. However, the letter from Code Enforcement on the tip of some concerned citizen jeopardizes everything. I’ve been given ten days from the date of the letter (the 18th, four left!) to vacate, or face litigation and possible fines of $750 daily. This now puts myself and my renters in danger of not having a home. One renter just left a master bedroom, so my current plan is to eat the extra $520 or so toward the mortgage per month and cram the four of us into one room in a house to buy some time until I default on my loan while I fight. Alternatively, I’m currently guessing it is legal to sleep in a tent on your own property, while I use my tiny house for storage. Also, permitting alone here is $15,000 before a shovel even touches the ground, so an ADU isn’t a current viable option with the added stress of Code Enforcement haranguing me.

This is just one housing crisis of a larger Oregon housing crisis. I see people living in RVs all over Central Oregon. It is legal in RV parks, and we have never had an issue while staying in one. We can run our entire electrical system off of a standard extension cord, and have done so for four years. Our electric bill varies from $30-$80 per month, depending on if we have to use the electric heater, and we don’t need air conditioning. Sometimes, it’s better to ask for forgiveness. This is my home. Sure, we’ve been planning to upgrade, but not so soon. What now? Do I sell the property to a developer to turn these 2.3 acres into 20 more crowded homes 6′ apart from each other? I’m going to fight, by enlisting the court of public opinion. I’m reaching out to state-wide media organizations, legislators, and tiny house enthusiast groups across the internet to help share what was once my success story. I know Oregon is trying to fight the affordable housing crisis most of us face. I understand that it is City Code, but I think a more pertinent question is if the Code is perhaps wrong, and not the people like myself who are living in non-traditional structures and working to save a little to help their financial future. My girls are currently upset that we are being forced out of our house.

{I have the letter I received from Code Enforcement, and the 2018 Oregon Reach Code aimed at helping regulate tiny houses I can send.} I am going to start courting the City and facilitating conversation, even though the olive branch was not first offered. Perhaps this is the push we need.