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Portland-based nonprofit sees potential in pedal-powered, housing ‘POD’

Posted by on January 27th, 2021 at 11:45 am

Current concept for the Portland Opportunity Dwelling ™.
(Graphic: POD the People, based on input from James Fritz)

What if there was a form of shelter that was much less expensive than housing and more private, comfortable and mobile than living on the street?

“Our intent is to develop an ‘over-the-grid’ community of zoning ninjas inhabiting a new type of mobile home.”

Portland nonprofit POD the People thinks they have a solution that will empower lower-income people and, “Make mobile micro-housing available to all.” “Our intent is to develop an ‘over-the-grid’ community of zoning ninjas inhabiting a new type of mobile home,” reads the group’s website.

POD is short for Portland Opportunity Dwelling™, a concept based on a three-wheeled, electric motor-home that aims to be legally classified as a light electric vehicle/bicycle.

POD the People Director Jeffrey Hood recently got in touch with BikePortland because he and his team are ready to build prototype and is looking for a contractor. If you or your company has experience, “producing custom assemblies for bicycles and pedal-operated vehicles” POD the People wants to hear from you. They’ve issued a request for quotations (RFQ) that will stay open until February 19th.

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Hood is a Reed College graduate with a masters in urban planning from UC Berkeley. He’s also a Certified Adult Mental Health Peer Support Specialist who previously worked for the San Francisco County Transportation Authority where he created a simulation model for counting bike traffic via a mobile app. His idea for the POD came during a road trip in the summer of 2016. That’s when he met artist Kathryn Lowry and community organizer Tom Truong. “Tom wanted to try living in the ‘nomad bicycle camper’ that he saw in a video by Paul Elkins,” Hood shared in an email to BikePortland. “When we returned to Portland, we built the camper from Paul’s plans.”

Truong lived in the trailer for a few months. But a harsh winter in 2017 forced the need for a heating solution, which led to fire safety concerns, which took Truong and Hood down the path that ultimately led to POD the People.

The organization is currently led by Hood, Rachel Kessler, and Michael McCloskey. Hood says they’re in need of volunteers to help on many facets of the project. Once they have a buildable design, the distribution model will be based on collaborative partnerships. Eligible customers (the focus is on people under the poverty line) will be given the option to build a POD themselves. Depending on how much money a person has, they might be able to completely offset the cost by building their own POD.

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“This arrangement will not only make PODs more accessible to those in need,” Hood says. “Personally-invested participants will also develop vocational skills and experience greater success in maintaining their PODs.”

The legality of a lightweight, human-electric-powered vehicle that is intended to be used as housing is still a bit murky. Hood said it’s “An evolving area of the law” but he is confident the ultimate design will not run afoul of any laws.

“Regardless of how the specifics shake out,” Hood added. “We will remain steadfast in our purpose — to empower the poor by making mobile micro-housing available to all.”

Brian Campbell’s creation.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

The POD design reminds us of the infamous “motorhome” bike built by Brian Campbell. Campbell was a nomadic and enigmatic character who first blew into Portland on his amazing bicycle house in 2006. A year later the community rallied around Campbell to help him rebuild his vehicle. He stayed around Portland a few more years and at one point hoped to mass-produce and sell his vehicle to others.

POD the People is taking a much more formal approach. And given the urgent need for innovative shelter and housing solutions in Portland, it will be interesting to see how this evolves.

If you’d like to learn more, donate, or volunteer to make PODs a reality, check out PODthePeople.org.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Thomas W Fawell
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Thomas W Fawell

Looks interesting.

Bob R.
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Bob R.

Can you clarify some terminology from the article? What do “over-the-grid” and “zoning ninjas” refer to in this context?

Mark
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What a novel idea! Kudos to Jeffrey and his team.

Jonathan, I included a reference link to your story here. Pls let me know if you’d like me to remove the reference or modify my description.

Granpa
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Granpa

Pod people would still be living on the streets with the same lack of hygienic facilities and the same lack of waste management as they now have. The difference is that rather than a cloth tent the have a mobile hard shell “pod” that would likely cost around $1500 to $2500 (depending on”amenities”). Rather than tents on the sidewalk we would have pods in the bike lanes or on MUPs. Why we can’t repurpose buildings into shelters defies logic

Granpa
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Granpa

So “zoning ninjas” are essentially scofflaws. GREAT /s an enterprise intended to further enable noncompliance with civic ordinances.

Alan 1.0
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I am not at all clear why or how Hood’s academic background in any way suggests that reconfiguring today’s tent-and-shopping-cart home somehow reinforces the idea of a city (urb). It seems the opposite: fragile, temporary, and nomadic. It would foster a solitary, unattached lifestyle rather than one of long relationships with fellow citizens and durable places. Promoting community and long-term stability is a goal beyond worthy – essential even – but I don’t see how this contraption leads in that direction.

Chopwatch
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Chopwatch

I strongly oppose metro homeless services funds, and I strongly oppose paying for toys like this with any grants.

Wake Gregg
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Wake Gregg

Why does it need to be mobile? a mobile solution seems to be simply kicking the problem down the road. Set up a fields full or concrete impregnated canvas dwellings and don’t allow camping anywhere else.

Concrete impregnated tents are assembled by pulling out of the back of truck, inflating with a leaf blower and then spraying with water. They are Durable, fireproof, safe, inexpensive. 1 window; 1 lockable door. done.