It’s the sort of scene that’s likely to become increasingly common in Wallowa County over the next few years:
Last week, a Cove woman, Lynda Wright, approached the Wallowa City Council and asked for permission to locate a “tiny house” — in this case, a structure that’s just a little larger than 300 square feet — inside the city limits.
Wright, who has lived in Wallowa County before, said she’s been looking for a spot to locate a tiny home and wants to return to the county. She told members of the council that she likes Wallowa because it’s relatively unchanged, offers great locations to walk her dog and still is only about an hour drive back to Cove to visit friends and family.
On the face of it, this does not seem to be an unreasonable request — and it certainly won’t be the last time the council (or, for that matter, government entities throughout the county) will be dealing with requests that somehow tie into the county’s housing crunch.
Councilors raised legitimate questions about this specific proposal and, at least for the time being, put it on hold. But they also seemed to understand that tiny homes may well be part of the answer to Wallowa County’s housing shortage. To allow them inside the city, however, councilors noted, would require work to overhaul local ordinances.
Under the city’s ordinances now, as Mayor Gary Hulse explained, tiny homes are considered recreational vehicles — a designation that makes some sense, since they often sit on wheels, like a camp trailer.
But Wright is thinking about a different type of tiny home: She told the council that she’d be willing to modify the home so it sits on a foundation rather than on wheels — and to ensure that the electrical, plumbing and insulation are all up to state building codes.
And that, if you’ll permit a terrible pun, is a house of a different color.
Our guess is that Wright isn’t alone in her desire to downsize. And while tiny homes aren’t the entire answer to the housing crunch, they might very well be one piece of the solution.
Overhauling ordinances to allow tiny homes that meet certain standards will require work from officials in towns like Wallowa — but it isn’t work they need to tackle alone. Every incorporated town in the county (and the county itself) almost certainly will be going through similar exercises in the next couple of years. (Enterprise appears to have a bit of a head start.) There’s no reason why this work can’t be tackled in a collaborative manner.
A good start would be for the county and its communities to follow Enterprise’s lead and launch their own buildable land inventories; in fact, the county already is angling for a state grant to help pay for that work. Such an inventory would give us a better sense of the demand for housing throughout all of Wallowa County. And, although Working Homes (the new nonprofit created by Wallowa Resources to work on housing issues) is just finding its footing, surely it and other organizations — including businesses and residents in the county — can contribute to this work.
And other communities in the county could learn something from the Wallowa City Council’s response to Wright’s request: Councilors raised legitimate questions, but also understood that last week’s discussion was just the first step in a longer conversation. It’s a conversation that will require some new thinking — and a willingness to be open-minded when the next person stands up in front of a governmental entity to pitch an idea that might challenge the status quo.
Mike McInally is the editor of the Wallowa County Chieftain. You can email him at email@example.com.