POD Initiative: Micro-Housing & Village-Making with Portland's Homeless

Project Origin

In the fall of 2015 the city of Portland declared a state of emergency on housing due to the high number of homeless living on the streets. A point-in-time report earlier that year counted 1,887 unsheltered and 3,801 individuals meeting HUD’s definition of homelessness. When including people “doubled up” by necessity in some form of housing, that number reached 16,344. With overburdened shelters and a lack of affordable housing, a range of initiatives have been proposed and/or attempted to address the need for adequate shelter for houseless individuals. These proposals have ranged from building or transforming giant warehouses and partitioning them to shelter hundreds or thousands, to small-scale interventions. The crisis also led to the formation of the Village Coalition, a group made up of advocates, activists, and houseless individuals committed to combatting homelessness from many sides of the issue.

Several CPID Faculty and Student Fellows began working with the Village Coalition in the spring of 2016. It quickly became clear that: a) informal “villages” being established by the houseless themselves were finding incredible success in creating vibrant, safe, supportive, and self-governing communities and could serve as a replicable model. b) Design was an unmet need that had a significant role to play to aid these efforts and those of the Village Coalition. c) Initiatives to change perceptions about homelessness among Portlanders would be essential for the success of any effort that integrated houseless individuals into Portland’s central city fabric. Through regular meetings and discussions with other members of the Village Coalition, the CPID joined forces with City Repair, Communitecture, and Open Architecture Collaborative to activate Portland’s design community to address homelessness.

Operating under the name Partners On Dwelling (POD), the first step in this initiative has been to ask designers to design and, in some cases, build small, beautiful, and safe dwellings to be collectively displayed in downtown Portland before being occupied in winter. This is initiative is not intended to be the solution to homelessness in Portland, but one entry point for designers to become involved and a model for supporting community making and strong social infrastructure among villages.  

Project Description

The POD Initiative asks the architecture and design community to apply their skills and experience in shaping the built environment toward housing Portland’s most vulnerable population- the homeless. On October 1st, 2016, the CPID and partners hosted an open design charrette attended by nearly 100 designers, social workers, activists, and houseless individuals. Speakers providing context and background included: Mayor Charlie Hales, Vahid Brown (Village Coalition), Todd Ferry (CPID), Mark Lakeman (City Repair + Communitecture), Sergio Palleroni (CPID), and residents of Hazelnut Grove- a houseless village in North Portland. Following these introductory remarks and group discussions, the designers worked with the diverse group at their tables to come up with preliminary ideas for “pods,” categorized as small structures with a footprint of between 6’x8’ and 8’x12’, and as tall as 10’8”. Using Hazelnut Grove as a case study for a potential site (which attendees were invited to visit before the charrette), these pods were designed to be part of a model village in their aggregation. Different groups generated ideas about water collection, adaptability, creative material reuse, modularity, and portability among many other innovations. The inspiring day ended with teams ready to develop their nascent ideas into full designs that can be built.

Teams continuing to participate in the initiative are asked to submit a final 24”x48” project board in mid-November that illustrates the design drivers of their pod proposal and includes drawings that could be used to understand how to construct the pod. These boards will be collected and displayed at events around Portland for both the design community and the larger public. In addition to changing perceptions, the goal of this step in the process is to provide an opportunity for feedback on the designs and to collect drawings from which others can build pods.

Fourteen teams- including two from the CPID and PSU School of Architecture- will manifest their designs into built pods with financial support from the Portland Mayor's Office and The Larson Legacy. These pods will be displayed in prominent downtown locations over the weekend of December 9-11 before being occupied by those who need them most. By involving the design community and bringing the conversation about pods and village-making to the general public, we hope to increase understanding and tolerance of houseless individuals, and reduce the number of “sweeps” in which groups are displaced from their community and village. 


Portland, Oregon, United States



Village Coalition    City Repair
Communitecture  Open Architecture ReBuilding Center  Portland Mayor's Office The Larson Legacy

POD Design Teams:                                     SERA Architects, Holst Architecture, Mackenzie, BPM, William Wilson Architects, Scott Edwards Architecture, LRS Architects, Communitecture, MoMaMa, Brett Schulz Architects, Forthcoming, City Repair, PSU School of Architecture, & CPID   

Next Steps

The POD Initiative is just the first step in building a coalition among the design community to continue to address homeless in Portland. This initiative is an entry point for designers to get involved with a clear deliverable, but homelessness is a complex issue that needs to be addressed from many angles. We look forward to working with our collaborators gained on this project to explore how design can best serve the homeless community in the future. This POD Initiative will inform these next steps through tactical action with the community affected.