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A 30-resident ‘tiny house’ encampment is rising at 22nd and Union

“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.

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27 thoughts on “A 30-resident ‘tiny house’ encampment is rising at 22nd and Union

  1. This seems like a promising approach for housing a small number of our homeless population. But I have a few questions about it. What do the neighbors think of the idea? Will drugs/alcohol be prohibited? What social services, if any, will be offered in order to get the residents into more permanent housing?

    • While it is sadly a sample size of only one, I know people who live about three blocks away who are not only happy about it but looking for items within their home to donate to help the new residents.

      IIRC drugs and maybe also alcohol are not permitted within Nickelsville, upon penalty of permanent expulsion. I’m pretty sure the chance of these houses going to addicts is relatively low.

      • Sample size doubled. Additional neighbor here. Feel the same and I hope it happens soon because this winter is supposed to be a real cold one!

    • I was working at 20th and Jackson a block away from the former “Tent City” of Nickelsville for a year. Drug use may happen (as it does generally in the community among people in housing and without housing) but I never heard about it. If anything, they will be a deterrent because people in the encampment won’t want to draw negative attention to themselves, and the effects of drug use (usually negative) upon their community.

  2. as with all things nickelsville or share/wheel it will be governed by scott morrow any attempt to dislodge him and they will be thrown on the street with the help of the church of the good shepherd and lihi like they have done before

  3. I am a family of 7 2 adults (Mother & Spouce) & 5 kids all teenagers 3 Boys & 2 Girls) we currently live in a tent. How would we apply for the tiny houses?

    • I would guess these are for couples or singles, that there would be issues with minors and that they’d want you to have four little houses of the fifteen. That would make for an interesting community dynamic….

  4. Fifteen to thirty people with a communal hygiene facility on a single lot. How will they impact the neighborhood with vehicles — parking and traffic — and tobacco smoking?

    • Oh no! Tobacco smoking! Think of the children! *cluches pearls tightly*

      Do you think it’s going to be one big cloud of cigarette smoke wafting over from the lot?

      As for traffic and parking, you do understand these people are homeless and aren’t likely to actually own a car, yes? Some might, but the majority of these people now sleep in tents. If they had a car, they would sleep in that, don’t you think?

      • I lived in my car for about six months but would have much preferred a stable little house with 24/7 access to a toilet. I have met many women living in their cars with cats who would probably feel the same way. The reality is that group homes do create changes in traffic patterns and neighborhoods resent them. As to smoking, I have visited Portland’s Dignity Village and the smell of unwashed humans and cigarette smoke is powerful a block away as one approaches on foot. I also have PTSD, triggered by tobacco smoke, but I realize that many homeless mentally ill folks self-medicate with nicotine. Second-hand smoke is frequently a problem in low-income housing; in Oregon it is forbidden in public housing.

  5. This has been initiated with little fanfare and, as far as I can tell, little conversation with neighbors. There is no evidence of a zoning review on the site, but they do have a lovely 3D graphic of the finished project. The house across the street recently went up for sale in a hurry…

    With all that said I’m mostly supportive as long as the city reviews their building and site plans.

      • Apples and oranges. Housing For Humanity builds to neighborhood specs and puts an ordinary family into a house they’ve built with sweat equity. This or any group housing changes the population density of what a neighborhood’s infrastructure accommodates. It isn’t about formerly homeless folks being “bad” people any more than ten college students sharing a five-bedroom house are necessarily “bad” people, it’s about choosing a location where the neighborhood can tolerate the demographic change.

  6. We need to start to “accept” these tiny houses….not only for hte indigent….which is a hugely growing population,…but for people who do NOT want to have 200-500K mortgages in this country of stuff and shiny things.

    Many, many people are living in tiny houses now that could afford much more…why? They want to actually live on 30-40K a year….and not have a 500k bank loan.

    Let’s change laws now…..and start to live for God and other people.

  7. it really is sad that most of the comments are indicative of the general public picking at straws and splitting hairs as to how the city is going to take this or deal with this—screw the city and the stupid neighborhood, and the stupid neighbors—isn’t it evident that if there are a bunch of drunks and drug addicts making a lot of disturbance that the powers that be will close them down—dammit just build the damn thing and house the homeless and spank em later if they need it—what’s the old quote “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”—so stop fearing what may or may never happen and get our neighbors off the street.

  8. This sounds like a terrific project. Nothing is ever going to be 100% perfect because, well, it never is. As to all the consternation masquerading as curiosity about what the neighbours think, and what the impact of group housing will be: We have group housing all over Capitol Hill. It’s called apartment buildings. People (gasp!) congregate outside them, smoking (tobacco and otherwise) and come home rip roaring drunk. Residents fight with each other inside and outside of these buildings, causing this compassionate soul to worry about domestic violence. This is just a diferent kind of group housing, people. It feels different and new because it’s, well, new and different.

    • Actually I have always loved the tiny bungalow courtyard style of apartment living as typified by 1920’s Los Angeles area complexes….but the idea of plunking an apartment building in the middle of a block of single-family homes would be weird zoning and should be avoided — it’s a density issue, not a design issue. And yes, apartment buildings do cause congestion and chaos even when they aren’t transitional housing. I know plenty of folks who complain that their expensive inner city high rise apartments reek of cigarette smoke and having stinky elevators.

  9. Terrific idea, but do they HAVE to make them look like miniature versions of the clap-trap $500K homepodments going up everywhere else in the city?

  10. How is it possible that in one of the wealthies cities in the U.S. (and home to Amaozon one of the world’s wealthiest companies) we have people living in shanty towns like the Great Depression? We should demand more of society and the billionaires in our midst rather than applaud these shanty towns as great options. No one should be living this way in this day and age in this town Stop tinkering with outer space and help people here on earth Jeff Bezos!! That millionaire tax can’t be made law soon enough.

    • I agree COMPLETELY about Jeff Bezos. His vanity projects are really, really irritating. At least Bill Gates, and his wife Melinda, are using their wealth for the public good.