Big Plans, Small Houses

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Pacific aims to build “tiny houses” to support nontraditional students

Pacific University is in the early planning stage of building a collection of tiny houses on one of the empty lots located near the Forest Grove Campus. The so-called “tiny homes” would serve as an alternative to dorms. There are still plenty of hurdles to clear—like finding funding and city building permits—but Interim Vice President of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs Sarah Phillips is floating a test balloon and seeing if this is an option for alternative housing.

   “In general,” Phillips said, “we are looking for more housing options for our non-traditional students.” Students like veterans, graduate students and older transfer students often have aged out of dorm life or have families; “tiny houses” are bigger than a dorm room or apartment, and have the amenities (but not size) of a regular. Think doll house on steroids.

   Each housing unit could have “a sleeping area, bathroom, kitchen area, and a sitting area,” Phillips explained. She admits that living in one of these units, especially with a family, will be “cozy quarters, for sure.” But, this style of housing can be far more convenient for students and families who would otherwise live far from campus, and they will likely be more private than on-campus dorm rooms and less expensive than renting off-campus.

   Phillips emphasized that the plan is in the beginning stages of development. She and Director of Housing and Dining Services Lisa Aiello are currently making inquiries at Pacific and in the community to determine what form the project can take. There are currently many unknown factors, including exactly where the houses will be built, who will build them, and what the costs will be for students to rent a unit. Phillips describes the current state of this project as being in the “dreaming” or “ideas and learning” phase, where concepts are first brought to the mind’s attention and made aware of reality. Other alternative options might be coming soon as well, and they imagine a catalog that provides students with plentiful options catering to different lifestyles and budgets.

   Complicating this process is working with the City of Forest Grove regarding what can and cannot be built within city limits. Phillips stated that the building project must conform to the existing rules and regulations of the city in order to be approved. Discussions with the city are still ongoing, and Phillips said it is safe to “assume always” that compromises will be made to the original vision for the project in order for it to be realized. Also, unknown expenses and specifics relating to this project make realizing this project more difficult.

   However, many aspects of the tiny home project make it easier to manage and realize. For instance, the small size of the units will likely make the costs lower than building other types of housing such as apartment buildings or dorms. In addition, since tiny homes are being explored in more communities, such as in Portland, it is “not as hard to figure out many current unknowns,” Phillips reflected. The environmental impact of these units can also be less than other housing types, and gardens can easily be added to them to improve their environmental contribution and appearance.

   As for students, those who rent these units will have the “same rights and responsibilities” as other students who live on campus. Phillips hopes the plan will further Pacific’s mission to provide opportunities to diverse and underserved demographics, as many minority students are also nontraditional students. Lastly, Vice President Phillips stated that “I would love to have anybody who’s interested in helping with the project just to let me know. … They can just contact me or they can contact Lisa Aiello.”

   Vice President Phillips can be reached via email at and Lisa Aiello can be messaged via the Housing & Residence Life Staff webpage at — Troy Pigman


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