It takes a village; a low-income housing solution |

It takes a village; a low-income housing solution

Other Voices
Pauli Halstead

Nevada County has a housing crisis. Many people, not just our chronically homeless, are finding themselves without shelter. There are not enough affordable rentals. Individuals and families are having to share anything that is available. A single paycheck is no longer adequate to pay rent and then cover remaining living expenses and food. As a result more Nevada County residents are becoming homeless.

On Nov. 10, Sierra Roots, a 501c3, based in Nevada City, is hosting a presentation on the micro-house village model, Opportunity Village, which has already gained success in Eugene, Ore. Andrew Heben, author of "Tent City Urbanism: From Self-Organized Camps to Tiny House Villages," will be the speaker for the evening. He will discuss the kind of collaboration that has emerged simply by making a space available for local community resources.

Opportunity Village opened in August of 2013. The village is not only supported by the Eugene City Council, they have been so impressed by the operation they voted to extend the original time frame granted for its use.

"While 30 units were originally planned for the village, the Board has opted to leave one space open for future use. With the construction phase complete and the village near capacity, we can now show our cost for this innovative shelter. The entire project was completed with just under $100,000 in cash donations and nearly an equal amount in materials and in-kind donations. If the village were closed today, the cost of operating the village would amount to $12/bed night. But if you amortize the construction cost over five years, assume the same operating costs as our last quarter for the remaining four years, the cost of operating the village comes to less than $3/bed night. In other words, for less than $3/night, we are providing safe and decent shelter for 35 members of our community. Subtract from that the $30/monthly utility fee, which each villager pays, the actual cost paid by our donors comes to less than $2/night for each person. This is an amazingly affordable model for providing basic shelter. Not surprisingly, we continue to see strong interest around the country in similar models."

In order for a project like this to be successful for Nevada City/Grass Valley it is necessary for the entire community to support it, as well as the city councils, county board of supervisors, law enforcement and the fire department.

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A second village, Emerald Village, is also being planned which will include 15 larger units and will be co-owned by the villagers, allowing them to build equity. The model is to have a common bathhouse, kitchen and meeting place. Participating residents will be able to make payments of up to $250/month. A portion of these payments will go into their equity accounts some of which will be returned if they choose to move out of the village. Those chosen for the Emerald Village project will also participate in its construction, putting in a required 50 hours. Gifts and pledges of $130,000 for the project have already been received and another $250,000 will be raised depending on land costs.

In order for a project like this to be successful for Nevada City/Grass Valley, it is necessary for the entire community to support it, as well as the city councils, county board of supervisors, law enforcement and the fire department. It is said, "housing is treatment." You cannot get your life together if you don't have a roof over your head or a place to clean up. A village project will improve the well-being of our communities and everyone will benefit. It will be a solution for those people who are already homeless, or are about to become homeless.

Of interest is that the state of Utah found that it costs less to put the homeless in permanent housing ($8000/yr. vs $20,000/yr. per person) than it does to pay for extra law enforcement, fire control and trips to the emergency room. The same result was found in Colorado, ($17,000/yr. versus $43,000/yr. per person). Taxpayers don't realize the significant costs to the public coffers for doing nothing to alleviate homelessness. Source: The New York Times.

With the recent fires, and the enormous costs of fighting them, we are well aware of the need to bring people out of our woods into a safe and more supportive environment for the good of all. The fire threat to our local community and forest land would be greatly reduced, health care costs would go down, and the sense of belonging generated by living and participating in a community would mitigate the need for continual law enforcement.

On Nov. 10, you are invited to join the discussion to help find a solution to our growing need for affordable housing and a safe living environment for those in need. The meeting will be from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Nevada City Elks Club. The evening is free. Donations are appreciated.

Pauli Halstead is the vice president of Sierra Roots. For more information, visit

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