Last week my Post Alley article “All of the Above – Tiny Homes and More” got a lot of response. The commenters clearly supported funding and expanding sanctioned tiny home villages.
Tiny home villages offer warm, dry, supported housing, and, as City Councilmember Andrew Lewis noted recently, living in the villages is safer than living on the streets and in our parks. According to his review of the police data, in 2021 there were NO reported shootings in any of the sanctioned, managed encampments and tiny home villages.
In contrast, on Sunday, April 10, Danny Westneat wrote about crime associated with unsanctioned, unkempt encampments on our sidewalks, parks, and roadways. In such informal places police statistics show that in 2021 violent crime went up 122 percent over the previous year. In 2021, there were 113 shootings in or around unsanctioned encampments. This is unsafe for us all.
This past Friday, I received an email from a business group in Rainier Valley, fed up with tents and garbage in their neighborhood. The group says they have seen no coordinated effort to offer people a better option than life in tents on the streets. Not the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA), not the south end police, who said they are spread too thin, not even our new mayor.
Yet, in the midst of all this inaction, there’s a partial solution. It’s an unoccupied 40-unit tiny home village in the south end on Martin Luther King Way, right across from the Rainier Beach Light Rail station. It’s all dressed up and ready to serve, but it has not been opened.
Available temporary housing? Yes. In South Seattle, where the need is great? Yes. An entirely empty village ready to go? Yes. But it is vacant. Why?
Last week I walked through the village. It is gated, has new pathways, outdoor lighting, washers, dryers, a community tent for dining, 40 fresh and colorful tiny homes. If and when it opens, it will be under 24/7 management with security. It will have rules: only people who live in the units may stay overnight, and no drug dealers or lethal weapons will be tolerated. Its goal is to stabilize its residents, get them the support they need, and move them into permanent housing when they are ready and the permanent housing is ready for them.
LIHI built this village anticipating that operating funds would be forthcoming. But in 2021, then-Mayor Jenny Durkan’s Human Services Department didn’t follow through with money budgeted by the City Council. Despite being in the geographic area prioritized by KCRHA, that regional agency has denied LIHI’s application for operational funding. For now, the gates of this tiny home village remain closed, and future residents are denied secure warm beds, food, security, and counseling.
George Scarola from the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) is frustrated, telling me that case management will be tailored to individuals and offered by ReWa, but it can’t act without funding.
As a candidate last year, my former City Council colleague Bruce Harrell said repeatedly, in person and on his website, “We need a Mayor who will take immediate and decisive action, a relentless leader who will take ownership of the problem. I will own it. My plan is to bring a new approach – one that will combine local and federal resources and work to coordinate with regional partners to ensure an ambitious plan – urgently getting people out of parks and streets and into stable housing with the on-site services they need.”
I agree. Urgent action is needed, but too little action is being taken.
Here’s a peek at what this unopened tiny home village looks like today.
- Forty tiny homes, freshly painted and surrounded on the back side by trees. Each home has steps with a handrail leading into the unit; many units have ramps for easy access.
This village isn’t for everyone, and people with severe mental illness and drug addiction may be better served at other permanently supported facilities. Yet for many who are unhoused in the Rainier Beach area, this is a ready-to-use community in which case management will be offered to help people stabilize.
Mayor Harrell? KCRHA director Marc Dones? You hold the keys. Open up those doors!