By Joseph Ditzler

The Bulletin

Jesse Russell wants Bend to be a little more like the Bend where he grew up, where working people can afford their own homes.

He and his business partner and longtime friend, Kit Blackwelder, in business together as Tongue & Groove Tiny Homes, are sizing up opportunities for a tiny-home development. Tiny homes, in this case structures of 200-400 square feet, are a trend espoused by some as an option for affordable housing.

Russell met with a Bend city planner for a routine review of a proposed development, only a site was chosen at random as an example of Tongue & Groove’s idea. The partners have no property on which to build. Russell said he submitted the plan to see if the idea would meet city regulations.

It would work under Bend’s cottage code, but the cost of land and system development charges, or SDCs, in Bend work against the idea of tiny homes as affordable housing, Russell said.

“For us, in order for these to pencil out, the SDCs need to (be) scaled,” Russell said, “With the land we have available now, if SDCs were scaled, we’d be able to hit that $150,000 mark.”

Tongue & Groove makes a basic, 246.5-square-foot model called the Hiatus, so named because Russell and Blackwelder designed it while Russell was on hiatus from his career as a reality television producer in Los Angeles.

Russell said the unit is small but can be enlarged. Tongue & Groove sold its prototype recently to buyers in Portland. Russell said they will make homes as they receive orders.

“I can’t tell you how many emails I get every week from people saying, ‘Hey, where do we get one of these. We’re ready to live small; where can we do it in Bend?’’ he said.

Russell’s plan has merit, said Jim Long, Bend affordable housing program manager, and could qualify for assistance getting started, provided it meets city regulations. Typically, tiny homes are built on wheels; some occupants finance their purchases as recreational vehicles. But recreational vehicles in Bend are relegated to RV parks and, besides, a subdivision of tiny homes on wheels would not qualify for federal affordable housing development grants, Long said.

Russell plans on building seven units on slabs, not wheels, with required common areas and sewer, water and power hookups. The homes themselves would adhere to building codes, Russell said. Building tiny homes to code would circumvent tiny homes popping up on unapproved sites, he said.

“There are people living in tiny houses right now in Bend and Sisters,” Russell said. “They’re under the radar, and hopefully they’re well built. Hopefully, no one gets hurt.”

Tongue & Groove is looking for assistance, like a break on system development charges, or an investor to help buy land on which to build, he said.

Long said the right project could qualify for a break on development charges, the fees paid by developers for water, sewer and other infrastructure to offset the cost of new development.

However, the Bend Park and Recreation District, which also charges SDCs, declined to reduce or waive its portion of development charges for affordable housing projects. That’s unfortunate, Russell said, because the fee is still prohibitively high for a tiny house project.

“We have a lot of beautiful parks, and we have a really amazing park (district),” he said, “but people are going to have to start sleeping in the parks if (the park district) doesn’t start to scale their SDCs.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7815,