“We really want to get people into these houses with the idea that they will transition into permanent housing.”
A new homeless encampment featuring 15 “tiny homes” is getting underway on a church-owned property at 22nd and E Union. So far, the new encampment has one house ready to go, put up in September and built by a group of teenagers working with the nonprofit Sawhorse Revolution. The two-person homes don’t have much in the way of amenities, but they are waterproof and lockable, two major benefits over tent living.
The empty lot owned by the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd had recently been used as parking lot for construction workers during the week and overflow church parking on weekends. From 2013-2014, the church hosted a Nickelsville camp on the empty lot. That camp, and two others in the Central District were all built as a result of the closure of the longtime Nickelsville camp on Marginal Way.
The Central District tiny house village is the result of a broad collaboration of organizations, lead by the Low Income Housing Institute and the Nickelsville community. Several organizations, including Sawhorse, are building the 15 two-person capacity houses out of their own pockets. Each house costs roughly $2,200 in materials.
“We really want to get people into these houses with the idea that they will transition into permanent housing,” said Monica Joe, who’s helping organize the project from the LIHI.
According to Joe, the is plan to deliver the rest of the houses in the coming weeks and have all residents moved in by Christmas. Organizers are currently working on hookup electricity and plumbing to the site ahead of move-ins. In addition to the two houses, Sawhorse Revolution is building a bathroom pavilion as part of its Impossible City project. The tiny house village will also include a kitchen and showers.
While LIHI provided some general construction outlines for the houses, each organization that is building a house will put its own spin on materials and design. One requirement is that the houses must be moveable. According to Joe, Nickelsville has a one year agreement with the church that organizers are hoping will be renewed.
Who gets to live in the new homes will be decided within the Nickelsville community, with priority given to veterans and longtime Nickelsville members. Governance will also be handled within in the community itself. Previous church sponsored encampments, which are permitted in Seattle, have sustained themselves on a combination of church and community support.
Unlike the Ballard encampment which faced some opposition from its surrounding neighborhood, the new tiny house village is separate from the City of Seattle’s efforts to add more encampments on publicly owned property.
According to LIHI, the 22nd and E Union camp could be the first of several tiny house projects around Seattle. Among the many advantages to having a built home over a tent is that residents can more safely lock up their belongings. Joe said that frees up residents to work or look for jobs and helps foster a sense of permanence and community.
“We really want it to be a community, and I really think that contributes to a better outcome,” she said.
The new camp comes on the heels of the City Council’s now complete budget negotiations that focused heavily on spending for homeless services. More than 45 people have died on the street in Seattle in 2015 and Mayor Ed Murray has declared a homelessness state of emergency in the city. That declaration led the city to add $5.3 million in spending to the $40 million called for in the mayor’s $5.1 billion 2016 budget proposal. Last week, the City Council boosted the emergency spend by another $2.3 million thanks to Seattle’s windfall from higher than expected real estate tax revenue. Kshama Sawant, set to lead District 3 in the new year, was unsuccessful in her bid to win support from her fellow Seattle City Council members for an even greater proposal of $10 million to build emergency housing.