Multnomah County

Guerrilla Development's bold plan to end homelessness

'Only nice people will be tenants at Jolene's First Cousin'

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) -- Without a cent of public money, a Portland developer is putting a pretty radical idea into action.

Guerrilla Development is creating a building where people who struggle to afford rent and those who don't will live together in a communal space. The company thinks it could slowly chip away at Portland's homeless crisis.

Owner Kevin Cavenaugh may be best known for his projects' quirky names and unusual buildings -- like the Fair-Haired Dumbell by the Burnside Bridge or the Zipper on NE Sandy. He's also a walking contradiction -- identifying as a capitalist and a socialist -- with grand vision of equity in the Rose City. 

Watch: Kevin Cavenaugh's TedxPortland talk on rent, wealth and equality

One day, Cavenaugh had enough of seeing Portland's homeless crisis keep getting worse.

"We, as a city, are building an absolute crap ton of studio and tiny one bedrooms for software designers that move from California making $85,000 a year," he said. "I don't want to design a city around a monolithic demographic."

Watch: Guerrilla's crowdfunding pitch video 

That's when he dreamed up Jolene's First Cousin. The story behind the name is a bit... off color... but it's meaningful for project leader Anna Mackay. 

"The intention behind the name -- only nice people will be tenants at Jolene's First Cousin," Mackay said. 

The idea was to create a beautiful space for the homeless, who normally wouldn't be able to afford it. 

The building was paid for by crowdfunding and renters who will pay market value. Mackay said they met their crowdfunding goal of $300,000 in just 72 hours with mostly Portland investors. 

"Jolene's First Cousin is a privately subsidized, mixed use development in Southeast Portland," Mackay explained. "On the ground floor, there are three retail units. There are 2 market-rate one bedroom apartments and the last unit is an 11-bed SRO -- single residence occupancy."

Of those 11 bedrooms, 5 or 6 will be dedicated to the homeless. Each tenant will be placed by the Portland non-profit JOIN, which helps homeless people transition into permanent housing.

"Those folks living in the 11 bedrooms will share restrooms, showers, a kitchen, a living room, a shared indoor space and essentially amenities. A co-living -- a dorm is a way to think about that," Mackay said. 

The team at Guerrilla knows 5 or 6 beds are just a drop in the bucket with thousands of homeless people living on the streets, but McKay said it's a start.

"It's definitely bite-sized," she said. 

Mackay said rent will be $425 a month and yes, it's profitable. But it's also an experiment.

"Large institutional affordable housing providers are just as crucial as these more home-spun projects," Mackay said. "It takes a village." 

Guerrilla Development already broke ground on Jolene's First Cousin in the Creston-Kennilworth neighborhood and will start excavating soon. They hope to finish by May 2019.

Mackay also said Jolene's Second, Third and Fourth cousin are all already in the pipeline. 


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