America’s 1st tiny house hotel had to be in dense Portland

Deb Delman and Kol Peterson love tiny homes: she’s spent the previous couple decades dwelling in a modified garage, a yurt, a tiny unelectrified cabin; he studied city planning and is a “really big advocate of ADUs [accessory dwelling units AKA granny cottages, in-law suites]”; and the couple now reside together in a self-built ADU.

Motivated by a wish to share their love of small areas with a bigger audience, the couple has spent the previous couple of years turning an empty lot in Portland, Oregon into the nation’s first tiny house hotel. They’ve called it Caravan as a nod to the tiny house folks who’ve come before them, and their guests.

Creating a permitted space for tiny homes in the center of a town will never be a straightforward job. Delman and Peterson spent a whole 12 months working with the town to “crack the code” on making it legal to park tiny homes on wheels in urban Portland. The answer: they’re zoned as a recreation park, not an RV park. “There’s a huge difference when you put the word vehicle in,” says Delman. “If it’s an RV park we’d have to have waste water management, we’d have to have parking lines, a whole slew of things that we don’t have in the case of being a recreation park.”

Their tiny houses are connected to city water, sewer and electric and are zoned as “travelers accommodations”- a hotel designation, “so this a commercial lot with a hotel on what is essentially an urban campground”.

The couple are permitted to park 6 tiny homes on their lot. Right now they’ve three: the smallest is 90 sq feet (plus a loft) and the biggest is 160 sq feet (“it sleeps four comfortably” nevertheless they’ve already had a household of 5 spend just a few nights in it).

The units rent at $125 per night which is not inexpensive per sq. foot of hotel space, but also you’re renting a whole “house”: all of the items include kitchenettes, eating tables, bathrooms, showers and closets. It’s also an opportunity to test drive a tiny home. The homes are all leased by Caravan from their proprietors: two of the present units have been DIY tasks and the third was developed by the new-ish Portland tiny house agency Shelter Wise.

Part of the concept of Caravan is to showcase the tiny home way of life. Guests can experience climbing a ladder to bed and showering in a wet bath (where the bathroom, shower and sink all share the same space– right now, the Pearl is the one unit with this feature).

The couple’s experience with the town permitting process is likewise serving as inspiration for different tiny house folks. Lina Menard, who writes the weblog This is The Little Life, works part-time at Caravan, and helped construct one of the present units- the 160-square-foot Tandem, sees this as a huge step for Portland.

“There are about 10 of us right now that either own or are presently constructing or are planning to construct quickly a tiny house and have an interest in residing in a group and we’re grateful to individuals like Deb and Col who labored with the town of Portland to pioneer this. We wish that something alongside these lines might be step one for us to really get set up to have a tiny house neighborhood.”


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