Housing starts

A roundup of Oregon real estate startups.

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Mapping the Landscape

Maxime Paul grew up hearing his father, a longtime military surveyor, complain about working in the rain and the cold. That’s the origin story behind CMDSense, an automated system for land surveying. “It was tough,” Paul says of his father’s profession, “frustrating, meticulous.”


CMDSense replaces a survey team with one operator and five sensors. The system can record distance within 5 to 10 centimeters, accurate enough for road infrastructure and utility projects. Automating the process saves contractors as much as $15,000 a month on surveying labor costs, Paul claims. To meet the more exactlng measurements most builders require, Paul recently released an even simpler solution: a smartphone app that records a surveyor’s movements and compares them against known data points. 

From the founder:  “George Washington used basically the same device,” jokes Paul, noting that survey tools have changed little over time. The profession used to be limited to an elite group of trained surveyors, and Paul hopes CMDSense will democratize the field. “We want to see anybody be able to pick this up.”

Building Community

Real estate investment trusts typically attract investors who are wealthy professionals: doctors, lawyers and corporate executives. The Mercy Corps Community Investment Trust, an initiative from antipoverty group Mercy Corps Northwest, seeks to make the financial instrument accessible to people who need to build wealth the most. 

The trust allows 300 to 500 Portland and Gresham residents within four ZIP codes to invest as little as $10 in a property and earn dividends from the rent paid by tenants. Residents also attend classes on financial literacy and investing. 

Screen Shot 2018 02 08 at 9.25.49 AMThe first project, a 29,000-square-foot strip mall in Gresham called Plaza 122,  was selected for its visibility and diversity.  Investors drive or walk past their investment every day, and the 27 tenants include a Latina-owned hair salon, a Somali-owned taxi company and a Russian-owned lotion business. The contract stipulates that investors can withdraw their money at any time and won’t lose anything if the building performs poorly. Mercy Corps held the first two classes for investors in January.

From the director: “There’s nothing else like it,” says John Haines, Mercy Corps’ director. “We made the investment at a low price point to fit with people’s monthly budget.”

Home from nowhere

Founded by Patrick Quinton, the former executive director of the Portland Development Commission (now Prosper Portland), Dweller aims to increase the city’s affordable housing stock by taking the headache out of building the backyard cottages known as Accessory Dwelling Units. 

In partnership with Living Room Realty, Quinton’s team finds homeowners interested in ADUs. The homeowner  then has two options: Buy the unit for $118,000 or get a 30% cut of the monthly rent paid to Dweller. The startup takes care of permitting, construction and installation.

Two of the units are in the permitting stages, with the first slated for construction this month.

From the CEO: “It shouldn’t be that the public sector has to fund everything to grow the housing supply,” Quinton says. “If  you’re in a tight urban market where land is scarce, you have to make use of every available piece of land.”