Francisca Benitez

Local land developers hope to make a big impact with tiny homes by providing affordable housing for veterans in La Grande. The site — located at 1612 Russell Ave. — will include 10 tiny houses, each 480 square feet, plus two community facilities, a gazebo and a dog park.

The project is owned by Kevin Reed and Gust Tsiatsos’ company, FTK Holding Group LLC. Tsiatsos, a La Grande native, has worked closely with Byron Whipple, Union County veterans service officer at the Center for Human Development, on the project.

“We are going to build 10 tiny houses to provide affordable housing that is much needed for veterans who are below the poverty standard,” Whipple said. “Trying to find a one-bedroom house in Eastern Oregon is tough, especially one that is affordable. So when I have a community partner such as Mr. Tsiatsos stand forward and say he wants to do this, we jumped on it.”

Rent for the houses is set to be between $500 and $600, and the price is all inclusive with no added utilities cost.

Tsiatsos said Whipple was instrumental in helping navigate the project in coordination with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Tsiatsos has worked on several land development and housing projects in La Grande with FTK Holding Group LLC and independently through his company, GCT Land Management.

Tsiatsos said the idea for a veterans village came to him when he saw the site was for sale and it was unusually large for the area. He decided to buy the land to turn into a few residential properties. When the laws surrounding tiny homes were loosened in 2018, Tsiatsos began looking into the idea of creating a village of tiny homes.

He said he was inspired by similar villages elsewhere in Oregon, like one in Eugene that was created as an affordable option to house the homeless. The Register-Guard reported the village is located in the Whittacre district of Eugene and is called Emerald Village.

Upon further consideration, he chose to make the houses in La Grande specifically for veterans.

“I feel like they deserve help — a lot of people do — but they are a population that has done a lot for the nation,” he said.

Tsiatsos said he designed the tiny houses to feel as spacious as possible, and he hopes the village will be a community that veterans can comfortably call their own.

“Our goal is to make it a place that is sustainable for years. We’re hoping it’s not going to be a place where people come and go every year,” he said. “I’m hoping (the houses will be) long-term homes.”

Each tiny house will have a front and back porch, a fenced yard and parking. They will also be completely furnished with everything from a TV, a washer and dryer to towels and bedding. The plans even include fireplaces.

“We’re hoping people can just walk in, turn the lights on and live,” Tsiatsos said.

Two buildings that already exist on the property will not be demolished but turned into community facilities. The smaller one will be used for crafts and storage, according to Tsiatsos. The other will be a community building, complete with on-site counseling for veterans.

Tsiatsos said the vision is to create a community of affordable housing tailor-made for veterans. He said Veterans Affairs informed him that most veterans in the area are in need of single occupant housing, which is why each tiny home will house only one person.

Although the project is focused on helping veterans, Tsiatsos said the project will help the rest of the community as well.

“I think there’s an opportunity to help with the housing crisis La Grande has,” he said, explaining that providing housing made specifically for veterans will free up housing options that might be more suitable for other community members.

The selection of the veteran occupants will be handled through the VA, and Tsiatsos said a local property management company will manage the village. The project is seeking funding from private donors who can sponsor houses in the project.

As for the construction, Tsiatsos said he often makes an effort to employ people for his contracting business who struggle to find work for a variety of reasons, and he hopes he can turn the construction process into an opportunity to employ veterans.

“Through my company, I like to extend help to people who need a second chance,” he said. “We are extending that offer to the people who will be living there who might have skills or abilities that could help with the construction,” he said.

Although a completion date has not yet been set, renderings and floor plans have been made and the project has been approved by the city of La Grande. Initial demolition and clearing of the site is already in progress. Tsiatsos estimates that the construction process will take about 18 months to complete and will likely start this summer.