Private companies pledge $1 million to build tiny-house villages in Seattle

A ‘homelessness authority’ was supposed to get Seattle and its suburbs on the same page; after a slow year, they may be further apart

Seattle City Council member Andrew Lewis announced Monday that he had pledged $ 1 million from the private market for a campaign to double the city’s population of tiny house villages for the homeless in just one year.

Calling the fundraiser “It Takes a Village”, he said Canadian developer Onni Group and wealthy Seattle business people have already contributed. He hopes to raise more than $ 7 million in private donations and more than $ 8 million in taxpayers’ money this year, and then put nearly $ 10 million in the city budget next year to keep the villages running to keep.

However, it is unclear if this can happen in the timeline he proposed.

The Seattle Times Homeless Project is funded by the BECU, Bernier McCaw Foundation, Campion Foundation, Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Raikes Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation, Seattle Foundation, Starbucks, and the University of Washington. The Seattle Times retains editorial control over the content of Project Homeless.

For years, Seattle corporations have been pushing the city to do something radical about the increasing apparent homelessness in the urban core. Some have teamed up with homeless representatives to advocate more housing for the homeless. others have steadily urged the city to take a heavier hand in law enforcement.

But as the pandemic has turned the city’s system of protection upside down and more people seem to be living in Seattle’s parks and alleys than ever before, some corporations and philanthropists are campaigning to put their own money into what they believe is a quick fix stuck: new tiny house villages to open up.

“We talk a lot about our departments in the city of Seattle,” Lewis said in an interview, citing the support of his fellow councilors. “Tiny house villages are something that everyone thinks is a good idea. Talk to Alex Pedersen: Tiny house villages are a good idea. Talk to Kshama Sawant: Tiny house villages are a good idea. Talk to Jenny Durkan. “

Lewis’ timeline would be a quick turnaround for something that historically has taken years to develop. While tiny house villages are usually acceptable stopgap solutions for businesses, neighborhoods, and some homeless people, while permanent, affordable housing is built – and popular with people on the street who dislike shelters – they promise to expand the city’s tiny house villages Failed.

In her first year, Mayor Jenny Durkan promised to build 1,000 tiny houses. It is now the final year of her tenure, and the city has less than half that number overall.

Last year, just before the pandemic, the city council raised the city’s cap from three villages allowed within city limits to 40 villages, and dramatically relaxed restrictions on creating tiny house villages. Since then, Lewis said, they have been looking for ways to expand dramatically.

The community budget for 2021 already provided enough funds for three new villages; Lewis’ proposal would use the public money for their startup costs and replace it with private funding, which would further stretch the public money. However, a statement from Durkan’s office said that two of these villages, which cost $ 1.2 million to build, will continue to run as planned with city funding regardless of Lewis’ efforts.

“Mayor Durkan supports the development of tiny home villages and welcomes council members who identify 10 locations across the city and identify $ 13 million of new resources for new villages,” the statement said.

Lewis touts his enthusiasm for the success of tiny houses as a stepping stone to more stable homes. According to statistics from the city’s only tiny village operator, the Low-Income Housing Institute, 41% of the 2,800 people who have lived in tiny houses in the past five years have moved into stable housing – the highest percentage of Seattle shelters.

That number peaked in 2020 when 53% left a tiny house for stable housing. In 2020, however, almost 21% were living outdoors again – the highest level since 2015.

Lewis’ plan would require $ 3.6 million for six villages to begin with, and then the same for six more. He wants private companies to pay for the one-time cost of building these villages – gravel, power, plumbing – and then convince the city to provide the more expensive operating budget – money for groceries, case managers and operations. Lewis said he hopes to use the money already budgeted for these expenses and secure more during a possible additional budget season this summer.

Companies like Onni, who have started building high quality residential, retail and office space in South Lake Union have gotten so desperate about the nearby homeless camps that they turned to Lewis, he said, and was keen to find places for Pay campers.

“As things have gotten so bad, we have been approached by people willing to make some private contributions to move the process forward,” said Lewis.

Rebecca and Eli Almo, who own senior housing company Era Living, and Judy Pigott, writer, philanthropist, and heir to the Paccar fortune, also contributed to the $ 1 million.

“The tiny homes enable security, justice and community within the tiny hometown and the larger community that surrounds them,” Pigott said Monday. “I know I doubled what I wanted to give and I hope this is the experience for many.”

Half of that initial $ 1 million came from an anonymous donor.

Duncan Wlodarczak, the chief of staff for Onni Group, perhaps best known in Seattle as the company that upset the community over their plans to demolish the popular Showbox music venue in 2018, told the news conference that the group’s donation will come will pay you for about 40 tiny houses.

“Being a prime city is not just about great inner cities, great projects and mixed-use projects that add great value to your city,” said Wlodarczak. “It’s also about taking care of your most vulnerable people.”

If Lewis’ plan for 480 new tiny houses succeeds, it would quadruple the number of tiny house villages the city wanted to open by the end of 2021.

It’s unclear whether the ambition matches the reality of the city’s homeless services department, which would handle the contracting and some paperwork for these locations and has been shrinking for years as it is slated to be replaced by a regional homeless authority. Lewis said Monday that he believes any villages that have been established by the city in the meantime will be taken over by the agency if it is operational.

The Low-Income Housing Institute, the city’s only contract provider for these villages, also has a small staff responsible for such an expansion.

Lewis’ plan also raises questions about the fundraising mechanism. A press conference on Monday almost turned into a fundraiser for the Low-Income Housing Institute by founder Sharon Lee, advising that private donations should go direct to the institute and that a charity Sunday donation would raise the money to 1.4 Brought in millions of dollars.

However, these projects must be awarded to a non-profit organization as part of a tendering process.

Lewis didn’t say outright if the private fundraiser was for profit, but added that he would be open to other vendors opening other tiny house villages.

Lee said donations are tax deductible when they go to nonprofits. That’s why donors gave the Low-Income Housing Institute money for “It Takes a Village”.

Jon Scholes, president of the Downtown Seattle Association, pointed out that the city and county declared homelessness a state of emergency nearly five years ago. He believes Lewis’ plan is good, but that it should be backed by better mental health services and drug disorder treatment.

“We have to pretend it’s an emergency,” said Scholes. “It’s by no means perfect – tiny houses aren’t permanent supportive housing – but they’re much better than the alleys, sidewalks, and parks.”