News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Expanding costs halt tiny houses developments

With the destruction of the 2020 wildfires came a spirited Santiam Canyon community effort to rebuild quickly. A lot of good work has gotten done, with the primary indicator being that less than 100 displaced families still are waiting to rebuild.

But every idea does not bear fruit and some projects – perhaps many projects – just take time.

Here is a look at two of those projects:

Evans Haven: A Canyon Weekly story on Feb. 4, 2020 noted that a 16-unit tiny house development “would become a reality” later this spring in Gates. The development was to be placed on the site of the Oak Park Motel, which did not survive the fires. For many, the shredded motel sign was a Canyon-wide symbol of the destruction of the fire.

The money from Oregon Housing and Community Services for Evans Haven supposedly was there. The Marion County Housing Authority would manage it. The Santiam Hospital Service Integration Team would screen applicants. Gates approved a code variance and the motel owner, Ron Evans, donated the use of the property. The state Department of Environmental Quality was ready to tackle the permit hurdles. 

The Canyon Weekly also visited the Salem manufacturing facility that was gearing up to build the tiny houses.

It is August of 2023 and the motel site looks far emptier than it did on Labor Day weekend in 2020.

What happened?

“Long story short,” said Matt Lawyer, a senior policy analyst with the Marion County Board of Commissioners, “through two bid processes the cost greatly exceeded what OHCS had budgeted for that project at the time. It would have worked out to be roughly $250,000 per unit for a short-term turn around.” 

In October of 2022, Lawyer said, the Board of Commissioners notified Evans that the lease would terminate in December of 2022.

North Santiam: In the same Feb. 4, 2022 Canyon Weekly article a second tiny house project was noted. The 16-unit project, involving essentially the same set of partners as Evans Haven, was proposed for a site at the North Santiam State Recreation Area near Lyons. Commissioner Danielle Bethell told The Canyon Weekly that a mid-winter opening was hoped for with that initiative.

What happened?

“It is a similar set of circumstances,” Lawyer said. “While Marion County Public Works worked extremely hard to get all of the waste water permits completed, by the time the permits were complete and the sheer volume of work that would be needed to complete this project was realized, the budget was quite high … and the immediate need to find temporary housing options for folks was not as evident as it had been in April of 2021 when Marion County began this process.”

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