ARLINGTON, Va.—Today, the Institute for Justice (IJ) sent a letter to city officials in Corvallis, Oregon, urging them to back off their code enforcement efforts against a free pantry within the city. The city is attempting to use its home business law to force Amy Crevola to build a full indoor building for her free pantry at her residence, even though the pantry is not a business.
Crevola chose to start her free pantry because she lives in an area of Corvallis with a high poverty rate, which includes people living in subsidized housing and many people experiencing homelessness. She currently runs the free pantry from her carport, where she provides clothes, hygiene products, household goods, baby items, and some food to people who need these products. In the winter months, she also offers a warming station with hot cocoa, socks, mittens, and warm clothes. And in the summer months, she provides a hydration station with water, juice, hats and sunscreen.
“I can’t end homelessness, and I can’t change our mental health system, but I can offer a cup of coffee and a place to rest a minute,” Crevola said. “I can offer a place for neighbors to help neighbors share canned goods and jackets, a place where we can hear each other’s stories: of hasty evictions and rent increases, of battling depression and hunger and encampment sweeps and loneliness.”
As one unhoused guest shared with Crevola, in a note scribbled on a ramen wrapper: “Thank you guys for the little things in life that are useful in this time of need.”
Her neighbors are largely supportive of her effort, with many donating items or volunteering to help. But when the city received a complaint about the pantry, officials sent her a letter on June 9 demanding that she comply with the city’s home business ordinance. According to the city’s interpretation of the ordinance, it restricts hours of operation to 40 per week and requires converting her carport into a full garage, which could cost upward of $10,000. Crevola has no issue complying with the 40-hour restriction but cannot afford to build a completely new structure on her property.
“Ms. Crevola is not running a business, so there is simply no reason she should be forced to comply with onerous business restrictions,” said IJ Senior Attorney Erica Smith Ewing, the author of the letter. “The cost of converting her carport into a garage could force her to close her pantry and leave the people who rely on her without access to products they need.”
Under the city’s interpretation of its law, if Crevola’s pantry is not regulated as a home business, then there is no other legal way for her to operate. IJ’s letter urges city officials to reach an “amicable solution” to allow her to continue operating without being forced to spend thousands on an enclosed structure.
IJ is the nation’s leading defender of property rights and private solutions to poverty. In 2021, IJ won a case in Washington State affirming the right of a woman there to operate her little free pantry. IJ also has pending cases against an Arizona city after it arrested a 78-year-old grandmother for feeding people in need in a public park, and against a North Carolina city for using its code to try to severely restrict a non-profit animal sanctuary.