Seattle plans to stop funding another tiny house village for the homeless after months of fighting with the property’s managers. It will be the second time the city has closed down a tiny house development.
Northlake Village, one of nine tiny house villages the city has built since 2015, opened in March 2018. A nonprofit group called the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) managed it and subcontracted with Nickelsville, an activist organization of homeless and formerly homeless people.
Sharon Lee, LIHI executive director, said Nickelsville did not make residents look for permanent housing or work with a case manager. They also used evictions “arbitrarily and unjustly made people homeless again,” Lee said.
Tension grew, and in April, Nickelsville refused to allow LIHI or city staff on the property. They closed the gates with padlocks and posted signs telling the residents working security to keep LIHI or city staff out. In September, the city gave LIHI an Oct. 7 deadline to enroll residents in the city’s Homeless Management Information System. LIHI failed to comply, blaming Nickelsville for not cooperating.
On Oct. 29, LIHI representatives informed residents the village would close and caseworkers would help them find other housing. But even as caseworkers moved people out, KOMO-AM reported Nickelsville was allowing new people to move in.
Seattle’s tiny house initiative has been “an abysmal failure,” Discovery Institute fellow Christopher Rufo said. In September, the city said it would close the Licton Springs tiny house village, which allowed residents to use drugs and alcohol. Calls to police for help in the area increased by 62 percent in one year, The Seattle Times reported. Seattle said officially it was shuttering the village because not enough residents have moved on to permanent housing.
One tiny house development in Austin, Texas, has succeeded by encouraging residents to build a community and take responsibility for it. The Community First! Village charges residents $225 to $430 a month plus the cost of electricity. The Village hosts community events and microenterprises such as a garden and car repair shop where people can work. It can house a little more than 200 people, though it is currently not full.
Since the property opened in 2015, it has had a 70 percent retention rate. The ministry that runs it broke ground on phase two, an expansion to add roughly 300 more homes. The new residents are expected to begin moving in early next year. During recent public debate over the future of Austin’s camping ban, which the city lifted this past summer, people regularly raised the tiny house community as a positive alternative to the city’s shelters and other methods of housing the homeless.
Unlike Seattle’s tiny house villages, which are meant to be transitional and do not charge rent, Austin’s serve as permanent housing. The main difference is “the level of emphasis that is placed on building community and relationship,” said Rob Smith, a Seattle entrepreneur who has studied the Community First! model.
Christopher Rufo said Nickelsville and the other groups that run the Seattle villages “want to turn homelessness into a political power center.” They attend city council meetings and advocate for more funding, sometimes shouting and causing disruptions. The Seattle City Council plans to stop funding Northlake Village after December. But Rufo said the city has threatened to cut Nickelsville’s funding before, and “a year from now they’ll still be in the mix, they’ll still be receiving public funding, they’ll still be expanding their encampments.”