LIKE SO many Portland renters these days, Suzana Levy and her partner Erika Guynes received a no-cause eviction notice recently.
"The first thing the landlords told us was, 'You haven't done anything wrong,'" Levy says. "They said, 'You're great tenants.'"
The house is owned by Holladay Park Plaza, a nonprofit retirement community in the Sullivan's Gulch neighborhood of Northeast Portland, and sits in a lot adjacent to Holladay Park on NE Clackamas. The nonprofit wants to expand, and plans to demolish the 105-year-old home, build a new facility for its residents, and add more parking.
- The Holladay Park Plaza behind the house's current location.
- James Rexroad
"I'm scared. In this rental market, it's going to be hard to find something in our neighborhood," Levy says. "But I'm trying to use this as an opportunity to make a stand for affordable housing."
The risky part? Levy's banking on her fellow Portlanders to make that stand with her. She's hoping you'll help move her house.
Levy and Guynes moved into the eight-bedroom home—which they affectionately refer to as the "Nook and Cranny House"—in 2007. Their young niece and nephew spent a lot of time there, inspiring the couple to create a kid-centered home and seek housemates with similarly aged children.
Roommates have come and gone in the eight years since the Nook and Cranny took shape, but Levy says the community vibe has endured.
Monthly bills on the 3,848-square-foot house come in somewhere around $3,500, Levy says. She charges tenants between $425 and $550 a room, utilities included. That's a fantastic deal in a rental market where studio apartments sometimes start at $1,000 a month.
"For me and many of us longtime Portlanders, homeownership has been out of reach, especially if we dream of living close-in," Levy says. "Much of Portland is trying like mad to hold on to the culture that created the motto 'Keep Portland Weird.' It's the same culture that creates intentional communities, prioritizes gardens, and crowdfunds for a park to save three giant sequoias from the chipper."
Levy decided to do something about the eviction, if she could. She approached the retirement center's executive director, George Wheeler, to see if there were other options. To her surprise, Wheeler offered to give her the house, for free, if she could find a place to move it.
"We certainly want to be good stewards of the neighborhood, so handing her the title would be a no-brainer," Wheeler tells the Mercury. "We've got the plus side of collecting rent from Suzi & Co. for eight years, so if we can help her attain this goal we'd be tickled pink."
Wheeler says other officials at Holladay Park are on board with handing over the house. The company has considered deconstruction, but say they like Levy's idea better.
In a city where developers are often willing to sell to the highest bidder and aren't too concerned with preserving a historic home, the gift is generous, to say the least.
But it comes with a lot of challenges, too. In response to Wheeler's offer, Levy started researching companies that move entire buildings, and began looking for land. To her surprise, she found a spot less than a mile away.
- The lot on the left is the spot picked out to move the house.
- James Rexroad
The parcel is an oversized, 9,070-square-foot lot, and it's for sale. There's an existing structure on half the land, but Portland's zoning code would allow for the parcel to be split in half, meaning Levy's Nook and Cranny House would fit.
But there's a catch. The entire lot is for sale, and the owner, Portland-based Matrix Holdings Family, wants to offload the whole thing at once. The firm's asking $2 million—a price tag that includes potential revenue for the buyer. The building that's there, which was built in 1922, has been split into six one-bedroom rental units.
Levy, who's a chiropractor, doesn't have that kind of money. She's crowdsourcing to come up with a down payment and the money to move the house.
"If we can raise $800,000 as a down payment, the owner said he'll carry the loan on the remaining $1.2 million," Levy says, meaning the owner would finance the remainder of the loan instead of making her go through a bank. "I've figured out that Erika and I could contribute between $1,400 and $2,000 a month, save a house from the wrecking ball, and be able to keep rents affordable for the average [minimum-wage] worker."
Moving the house will be an additional $100,000-plus, according to estimates from local companies.
- Suzana Levy
- James Rexroad
Levy says she needs to be in escrow—meaning she'll need a down payment and to have started the necessary paperwork to complete the sale—by the end of 2015, and has to have the home moved by March 1.
The Nook and Cranny is in excellent shape, made with quality materials that aren't widely available anymore. Levy says she knows asking for $800,000 to fund her own family's need for a permanent home is a lot, but she hopes people will rally behind what she's trying to do.
"There is a choice to say, 'If we can't do it we'll just walk away,'" she says. "But the outcome would be that a bunch of people would lose their affordable housing and be thrust into the nightmare of a Portland housing market."
A few months ago, Levy built a website—nookandcrannyhouse.com—to start her crowdfunding venture, but says she didn't publicize it much because they hadn't found property. Now that they've got a potential location, she's hoping donations will start coming in. As of press time, she'd received $740 in donations.
Alexander Phan, the listing agent for the property Levy wants to buy, says her idea is interesting and that the property owner also supports what she's trying to do. Phan says he does think her goal might be a little lofty given her timeframe.
"I hope she gets a lot of public support, because in this market first-time home buyers in the working-class price range don't have much of a chance," Phan says. "We're getting a lot of all cash offers when houses go on the market."