Jesse Russell had it all. TV credits as a producer on the country’s hottest new reality shows, a work schedule consisting of seven months on and five months off, then traveling the world until he’d start the cycle all over again.
A life most of us would quit our day jobs for. But it wasn’t for him.
Jesse’s career started in 2004, after graduating from the University of Oregon’s prestigious journalism program. He moved to New York City with the hopes of making it as a filmmaker. Jesse had already spent a couple months in Iran shooting a documentary—roll after roll—and New York was where it was all going to come together. Because of his experience shooting in the field, he landed his first job in the entertainment world on the reality TV show Home Delivery—from the executive producers who brought us Maury Povich.
Jesse and his team traveled around the U.S. surprising people and their families, helping them overcome hurdles. A girl gets a new glass eye because her old one is too small and keeps falling out. A young boy gets a prosthetic ear because he was born without one. But the show was a failure, lasting only one season.
The experience as a field producer propelled Jesse to Los Angeles, which led to more and more success. As a producer, he’s worked on everything from Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen to Nashville Star, the show that introduced the world to Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves, and in between he worked on his own scripts. But as he progressed in his career, he began to realize this wasn’t the life for him. Clocking fifteen-hour workdays seven days a week, he was getting burned out. He needed to simplify his life, but he wasn’t sure how.
Jesse saw the first glimpse of his career in TV coming to an end while working as a producer on Nashville Star. He pulled together a list of his favorite songs to pitch for contestants to sing. A huge fan of country, Jesse knew his list was flawless, but the owner of the production company had a different take. After Jesse read off the first song, the owner said, “Patsy Cline? Who the fuck is Patsy Cline?”
She was one-hundred percent serious. It was the beginning of the end, and Jesse would eventually quit TV, sell everything, and leave Los Angeles for good.
Jesse had no idea what career was next, but for the time being, he needed to clear his head of the TV industry, the grueling hours, and the behind-the-scenes chaos. A long hiatus to Europe was his chance to read self-help books and engage in endless introspection. He loved traveling, swimming holes, and writing, but Jesse didn’t know how he would pull these random things together, or what would come of them. He followed his instincts and traveled from swimming hole to swimming hole all around Europe and wrote blog posts about each of them.
But even this love of travel began to fade. He was visiting some of the most beautiful regions in the world, but he wasn’t around his friends or family. The thought struck like lightning. No amount of travel would cure what he was longing for—a community. He needed to fly home to Bend, Oregon, and be near those he loved.
In Bend, Jesse decided to build a tiny home because the city had little, if any, affordable housing. Jesse lacked building experience, so he recruited his best friend Kit—a seasoned professional—and with Kit’s guidance, Jesse built his first tiny home affectionally called the “Hiatus Home.”
Because Jesse was still learning, he was able to think outside the box, questioning how and why the building codes were the way they were. That approach helped him push the boundaries of what was possible. It didn’t make sense to him why he wasn’t able to put four tiny homes on one lot in Bend if he wanted to.
Working side by side with his best friend was one of the most meaningful things Jesse had ever done. This was what Jesse had been searching for since he left Los Angeles. His next life project would have nothing to do with television, swimming holes, or Europe. Jesse would set out to build a community of cottage homes.
Since his first tiny home, the building codes and density restrictions in Bend are finally catching up to the very real need for affordable climate-conscience housing. More people are making environmental decisions when they buy their homes, and many have already committed to other lifestyle changes, like swapping out their car for a bicycle. But early building codes were written to say that each housing unit needed two parking spaces. To this new breed of buyers, committed to living more simply, those building codes didn’t make sense. Arguments like this were how Jesse helped Bend improve their Cottage Code, which finally defined a tiny home and refined density restrictions.
“There’s a huge problem with affordable housing. In the past, you could only build a house with a minimum lot size. But Oregon is requiring cities from the size of Bend on up to allow different, more dense housing types (duplex, triplex, and cottage clusters) where there used to be just a single house. Ideally, this will mean a larger housing inventory within a city and result in more affordable housing.”
Tiny homes and small house communities have started to gain popularity as minimalism trends and climate change speeds up. This is evident by the success of Jesse’s first development, Hiatus Benham, which sold out. It was comprised of twenty-two 598 square foot cottages built in the “small/tiny house” design style. This success led Jesse to undertake his second development, Hiatus Roanoke, with ten 900 square foot two-bedroom, two-bath zero-energy-ready homes, that include a finished garage that’s electric vehicle ready.
“It’s critical that we’re at the forefront of this next wave of building. While other developers might not give a shit about building an energy efficient home because they are only concerned about the bottom dollar, the code will require they build more efficiently, and we’ll be ready,” Jesse says, who tells me he is already working on Bend’s first micro-apartments.
Climate change and the housing crisis are national problems, and Hiatus Homes wants to bring greater awareness to other towns throughout the country who are experiencing these problems right now. This is precisely why Jesse and his team created the Hiatus Capital Fund.
“We’re raising money to be able to quickly and efficiently build other Hiatus projects, and not just in Bend. The overall goal is to be able to look all across the West Coast and help other cities, developers, and builders build their own small, efficient, beautiful communities.”
“We’re building these type of communities right now,” Jesse tells me, but it’s clear that Hiatus Homes is a change maker, aspiring to be the expert for when everyone else in the country starts to ask themselves—how should we rethink our communities? “We’re focusing on doing one product now and getting that right. We’ll replicate it for six or seven developments here in Bend, and then we’ll branch out in a year or two.”
Jesse Russell has come a long way from where he started—a hopeful filmmaker.
“The reality of that life is a boring one,” he says. “Slow and detailed, and always on the set or in the field away from home.”
Jesse’s early vision of what he wanted in life didn’t match reality. Life in New York City and Los Angeles wasn’t for him. He didn’t want to live in a mansion in Malibu, and he didn’t need to eat at the fanciest restaurants. “That can’t be the end-all.”
The end-all was to be fulfilled by a community of passionate people doing good work. And while Jesse’s work-life balance is not what it was when he built his first tiny home as a single 40-year-old—as he’s now a partner, father, and seasoned developer—it’s no less fulfilling. He loves being a part of the Bend community. He loves thinking about how all the hard work being done today will soon impact communities across the country. He’s proud of who he’s become. Like the star of a film, the man possessed by his passion—which steered Jesse towards that medium in the first place—he’s now become that man.
“There’s no end in sight,” Jesse tells me. “What can I say? I like Mondays.”