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It Takes a Village

Councilmember Andrew Lewis is proposing an initiative, "It Takes a Village," to quickly expand the number of tiny houses in Seattle. Tiny houses are a vital step on the pathway out of homelessness and help remove tent encampments.

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The Problem

3,738 people experiencing homelessness are living unsheltered in Seattle

Current Status

While the City of Seattle is adding 545 additional emergency shelter beds, there is still a size shelter gap - about 2,600 spaces.

Solution

Councilmember Lewis is proposing that we scale the City's existing Tiny House Village system from 294 tiny houses to 800 before the end of 2021.

Why Tiny Houses?

Tiny Houses are Affordable & Desirable Shelter Options

Tiny houses are not permanent housing. They are emergency shelters combining private individual small houses with communal hygiene and dining facilities.

Tiny houses in and of themselves do not end homelessness. Only permanent housing can do that. However, tiny house placements can immediately remove tent encampments by providing people highly desirable places to stay while they seek permanent housing

Pathway Out of Homelessness

Tiny House Villages' case management support villagers to an exit from homelessness, leading to turnover of village placements.

Effective

Tiny Houses Are More Effective at Exiting People from Homelessness

In 2019, 41% of Tiny House villagers exited to stable or transitional housing versus less than 1% of overnight shelter residents and 31% of people in enhanced shelter.

Tiny Houses Serve Many People

Over the past 5 years 2,800 people have transitioned through the 335 houses. That is an average of 8.3 people per-house.

Affordable

Tiny House Villages are very affordable.

Tiny Homes = Big Difference

480 Additional Tiny Homes Will Make a Big Difference, Drastically Shrinking the Shelter Gap

Based on current turnover, we estimate 480 tiny houses would serve 720 people over an 18-month period.

That would double the minimum amount of added capacity from our County partnership and bring the shelter spaces gap down to 1,873.

Plan & Partnership

"It Takes a Village" calls for creating 480 tiny houses before the end of 2021 in two batches of 240 tiny houses each.

Next Steps | Phase 1

  1. Identify 6 suitable sites for new villages.
  2. Complete site assessments for capital cost estimate.
  3. Raise private dollars for total capital costs for each site.
  4. Contract with providers for case management and wrap-around services.

Potential New Sites

The pinned sites on this map are owned by the public or non-profits and should be made available to site a village.

Private Funding Goal

$3.6 Million Fundraising Goal

Final site assessments are needed to confirm total cost, but assuming all 6 sites cost as much as the most expensive village to date we will need $3.6 million in private one-time donations.

Private philanthropy has historically been used to construct villages. The Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) has received support in the past from many leading companies:

  • Microsoft
  • Home Depot
  • Dunn Lumber
  • Lowe's
  • HomeStreet Bank
  • Vulcan
  • and others

Funding & Services

Use Public Money for Wrap-Around Services and Case Management

With $3.6 million in private support, the City can use the entire $4.2 million appropriated for new villages in 2021 for operations.

This can be done without any additional appropriation of City resources and does not require any further action from the City Council.

Next Steps | Phase 2

An additional 6 villages, to reach a total of 12 new villages, by the end of 2021 will require:

  1. Identifying 6 additional sites.
  2. Raising approximately $3.6 million more in one-time private donations.
  3. Appropriating an additional $4.2 million of City money, and securing an ongoing annual appropriation of $9.6 million to keep all 12 villages operational.

FAQ

Creating more tiny home villages sounds great. What about the enforcement side of this? Will people still be camping in parks?

The City's homelessness crisis hasn't been an enforcement issue. The issue has been that we don't provide our homeless neighbors a place to go, so they end up camping in a park or public place. Our homelessness strategy has been missing a crucial component: a surge in shelter so that people have a place to go. That is what Councilmember Lewis is trying to address with this initiative. No enforcement initiative is ever going to be successful unless we have a large amount of desirable shelter spaces. The enforcement strategy can be effective in clearing public spaces, but ultimately moves unsheltered people around. The number of tents across the city largely stays the same. We need to give people a desirable place to go to ultimately address the problem.

Why would we invest more in shelter rather than housing? If housing will address the underlying problem, why scale up shelter?

Councilmember Lewis is committed to scale up housing with the Third Door Coalition. While advocating for “It Takes a Village” he's simultaneously working on a bill to streamline the process for creating more Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH).

Seattle is in a humanitarian crisis. We can't build housing fast enough. Part of the pipeline of getting people into Permanent Supportive Housing is to create sufficient, desirable shelter. Tiny houses do not solve homelessness. They address encampments. It's true that homelessness is only going to be solved through housing. But in the meantime we can't have thousands of our neighbors living in tents. They deserve better. And we'll do better together.

Doesn't this initiative just incentivize people to move to Seattle to get a free house? Will it attract more homelessness?

No. Other jurisdictions such as New York City and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have “Right to Shelter” laws mandating the government provide shelter to everyone. If their shelter systems are full, those jurisdictions must by law put people up in hotels. If that is the case, why doesn't every homeless person move to those jurisdictions?

The answer is that people experiencing homelessness are not as migratory as people imagine. Roughly 83% of people who are experiencing homelessness lived in King County prior to becoming homeless. There is simply no indication that expanding shelter capacity will lead to an influx of more people experiencing homelessness.

Are Tiny House Villages a widely accepted shelter option?

Tiny House Villages are a vital step on the pathway out of homelessness. They are crucial in moving people from being unsheltered to permanent housing. And they're effective. 41% of people who lived in tiny houses exited to permanent housing, compared with less than 1% for overnight shelter or 31% for enhanced shelter. Tiny house villages work. We just need more of them.

What have we already spent on Tiny House Villages? Are 800 tiny houses really enough?

In and of themselves, no. Not even 800 tiny houses are enough to solve unsheltered homelessness. But this is an ongoing process. We can keep building these partnerships to expand our tiny house system to get to 1,000 citywide. While there are realistic constraints regarding supply of sites and service provider caseload, if we never start we will never get there. Councilmember Lewis has worked to set an ambitious and achievable goal that we can build on.

How You Can Help

Get Involved

Identify Sites

If you are a landowner with vacant property of at least 10,000 square feet we need your help. Note that there are property tax exemptions for hosting villages.

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Secure Private Contributions

If you are a board member or officer of a charitable foundation, corporate board, or civic organization help us secure a contribution to get this plan going. We are happy to schedule a presentation for your organization.

Support Legislation

Call, write-in, and testify for expansion of villages at Council meetings. Sign-up for email updates about volunteer opportunities.