Deb Delman and Kol Peterson love tiny homes: she’s spent the past couple decades living in a converted garage, a yurt, a tiny unelectrified cabin; he studied urban planning and is a “really big advocate of ADUs [accessory dwelling units AKA granny cottages, in-law suites]”; and the couple now live together in a self-built ADU.
Motivated by a desire to share their love of small spaces with a larger audience, the couple has spent the past couple of years turning an empty lot in Portland, Oregon into the country’s first tiny house hotel. They’ve called it Caravan as a nod to the tiny house people who have come before them, and their guests.
The caravan/travelers model
“Caravans are mobile homes on wheels. Caravan is a group of people that are set up in a circle that are creating a space, travelers. We think of caravanning when we travel and are on the road. Culturally all over the world people have lived in tiny houses and caravans. It isn’t new, really. It’s new to have it in a parking lot in the middle of the city, that’s for sure.”
A recreation park not an RV park
Creating a permitted space for tiny homes in the middle of a city is not an easy task. Delman and Peterson spent an entire year working with the city to “crack the code” on making it legal to park tiny homes on wheels in urban Portland. The solution: 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 hooked up 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,” explains Delman.
As small as 90 square feet
The couple are permitted to park 6 tiny homes on their lot. Right now they have three: the smallest is 90 square feet (plus a loft) and the largest is 160 square feet (“it sleeps 4 comfortably” though they’ve already had a family of 5 spend a few nights in it).
They units rent at $125 per night which isn’t cheap per square foot of hotel space, but you are renting an entire “house”: all the units come with kitchenettes, dining tables, toilets, showers and closets. It’s also a chance to test drive a tiny home. The homes are all leased by Caravan from their owners: two of the current units were DIY projects and the third was built by the new-ish Portland tiny house company Shelter Wise.
Part of the idea of Caravan is to showcase the tiny home lifestyle. Guests can experience climbing a ladder to bed and showering in a wet bath (where the toilet, shower and sink all share the same space– right now, the Pearl is the only unit with this option).
A prototype tiny house community?
The couple’s experience with the city permitting process is also serving as inspiration for other tiny house people. Lina Menard, who writes the blog This is The Little Life, works part-time at Caravan, and helped build one of the current units- the 160-square-foot Tandem, sees this as a big step for Portland.
“There are about 10 of us right now that either own or are currently building or are planning to build soon a tiny house and are interested in living in a community and we are grateful to people like Deb and Col who worked with the city of Portland to pioneer this. We hope that something along these lines might be the first step for us to actually get set up to have a tiny house community.”