On May 22nd I attended an information meeting at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church about the Tiny House Village that is being erected by around the corner from my Central District home. While I had expected that some neighbors would express reservations and concerns, I was surprised by how strongly some of my neighbors were against the project. Although, there were also voices of support present, the level of contentiousness in the room startled me.

The proposed project is a 38-unit Tiny House Village at 1714 E. Yesler Way. It is under the sponsorship of New Hope Missionary Baptist and Truevine of Holiness Missionary Baptist Churches. The Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) will operate the village, which will offer residents private 8 by 12 foot tiny houses, access to shared kitchen, bathroom, and shower facilities, 24 hour security, and an onsite case manager to provide assistance with permanent housing searches, employment, and healthcare. It is anticipated that the community will shelter about sixty people. Residents will include homeless families, students, veterans, couples, singles, and people with pets.

LIHI currently operates seven Tiny House Villages throughout Seattle. By and large these villages have succeeded at offering shelter, stability, and community to people suffering from homelessness. During a recent visit to the Tiny House Village at 22nd Ave and Union St, I was impressed by the cheerful atmosphere of the community. Inspirational quotes stuck to the storage shelves of the communal kitchen, well-tended container gardens, and other proud personal touches made the Village truly feel like a home.

As Seattleites we all know that we are facing one of the most acute homelessness crises in the country. This is why I hope that my neighbors who are in opposition to the Yesler Tiny Village can put their skepticism aside and open their hearts and minds to creating more homes like Union Village.

One of the first steps we can take is to better educate ourselves about the issues. During the information meeting, the example of Licton Springs Tiny House Village was raised several times. References were made to an April 2018 Seattle Times profile piece that highlighted neighbors’ concerns about drug traffic, syringes, and human waste near the site.

Here is where the Yesler Tiny House Village will go. (Photo by author)

Some of my neighbors fear that we will soon face similar problems; however, it is important to understand the differences between these two communities. Licton Springs is a low barrier shelter in which drug and alcohol consumption is allowed. The Yesler Tiny Village will be high barrier, meaning that in addition to drug and alcohol use being banned from the site, residents will also need to uphold a code of conduct. Furthermore, neighbors who want to be involved in the ensuring the Village operates smoothly have the option of joining the Community Advisory Council or simply attending their meetings to voice input.

People were also distressed by a lack of communication about the arrival of the Tiny House Village. Adjacent neighbors were not informed in advance about the project, and many of them expressed discontent about feeling excluded from the process.

Pastor Jeffrey of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church directly addressed the problems around communication and exclusion. In a moving speech, he admitted that since his predominantly African American congregation has mostly left the Central District for more affordable housing in South King County it has become much more difficult for him to communicate effectively with the neighborhood. He also did not shy away from the fact that he felt that it was ironic that the word “exclusion” was being used by the largely white audience, when social and economic forces had excluded his members of his congregation from the neighborhood which had once been their home.

Concerns about crime were also raised several times during the meeting. However, the evidence suggests that not only does crime not increase near Tiny House Villages, it actually decreases near sanctioned homeless encampments. In fact, an in-depth Guardian report published just yesterday released statistics on crime rates near organized homeless encampments in Seattle and Portland, including Tiny House Villages, and found that among the eleven sites studied, crime rates in nearby neighborhoods decreased in the five, remained unchanged in four, and increased in two incidences. This is very encouraging news.

That is not to say that we have complete assurance that the Yesler Tiny Village will be a success; however, the odds, which are already very good, will be even more in our favor if our neighborhood commits to supporting the Village.

There is a lot of discussion right now about what our city government and nonprofit institutions can do to effectively address homelessness, but I also believe that as individuals we need to take ownership of the issue. We have both power and responsibility to work for change in our community.

At Union Village, I asked residents what kind of support they needed most and their response floored me. I expected to hear a need for financial donations, food, or volunteers. Instead, they said what they needed was acceptance and inclusion, to feel like ordinary neighbors.

This is something we definitely can do.

If you would like to support the Yesler Tiny House Village and other LIHI projects, here is how you can help:

  1. This Saturday (May 26th) volunteer groups will be painting the new tiny houses onsite. They welcome additional volunteers.
  2. Come to the next information session: June 12th, 7-8:30pm at Ernestine Anderson Place, 2010 S. Jackson.
  3. Join or attend the meetings of a Community Advisory Council: https://lihi.org/contact/
  4. Provide financial support and donations.
  5. Visit a Tiny House Village to say hello and learn about the community: https://lihi.org/tiny-houses/

Update: Below is the new tiny house village partway though installation on Saturday.

The Yesler Tiny House Village quickly took shape as it was installed Saturday May 26th. (Photo by author)

The featured image of the Tiny House Village at 22nd Ave is courtesy of LIHI.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. It would be interesting to know more about the opposition, quantitatively and qualitatively. I guess few of them will be reading theurbanist.org, rather maybe readers are more likely to be thinking about how communities deal with challenges like this.

    When the Ballard lot moved to Wallingford, there was some vocal concern, but the way I remember it, by the time they came to a community council meeting to tell their story, most of the flak came from an adjacent business owner whose logistical issues didn’t have much to do with homelessness at all. It was pretty mild, for as feisty a community as we are.

    Wallingford has the advantage of being a fairly well defined, cohesive neighborhood that’s pretty active on neighborhood issues, and we were able to indulge ourselves in some robust discussion when the intentions were made public. There was sure some of the same desire to take the Licton Springs lot as an example, but that’s the kind of thing that can be sorted out if anyone’s paying attention. The other substantial issue I think people had was the potential for unsanctioned campers to congregate in the vicinity, which we had heard had been a problem in Ballard; that was never really nailed down, but … I think it might be a little easier for the community to wait and see, because we are perhaps more confident in our ability to recognize and respond to problems if they arise.

    My point here, more generally, is that people will naturally feel more confident in the face of changes that are thrown at them, when they know from experience that their community has some power to push back. That doesn’t mean having a voice in terms of color stickers made available at a show-and-tell, it means being able to take on the city and win. The neighborhood institutions that might form the core of that are also, often, more able to work productively on issues, than the people who will dominate eruptions of discontent like it sounds like you were seeing in Yesler. It would be a great turn-around at DON if they could work with a neighborhood like that, to foster or bolster a neighborhood organization that could take some of that on. But of course there’s no point if the organization would be powerless, and that needs to be a commitment in other parts of city hall.

  2. Just needing inclusion and acceptance? Nothing about a job? I guess between the handouts and burglary, they’re getting by ok.

    • So I guess you know what’s best for these folks, huh?

      How do you explain the Guardian study that found crime generally does not rise near encampments? Could it just be that your basing your snark that encampment residents are categorically freeloaders and criminals on prejudice rather than actual fact?

      • I was surprised by how many people are employed who are living in tiny house villages and other encampments, both sanctioned and unsanctioned. Because of the lack of affordable housing, many people who would have previously been housed are homeless. When I visited the site at Union I was told that many of the residents work or receive public benefits such as Social Security, but are unable to find housing in the current rental market.

      • @dougtrumm:disqus Actually the Guardian ‘suggests’ that crime generally does not rise near encampments. The Guardian just published some stats but that doesn’t prove or disprove anything.

        As the article states “Researchers stressed that the data did not show a causational relationship between the villages and lower crime.”

  3. Why not use the space more efficiently and make each tiny house a 2 story house and double the density. or share common walls and create a row house type village to save on space and costs.

    • I don’t know anything about this business, but just guessing …
      – reasonably robust structures without a lot of framing
      – portable
      – don’t need sound insulation
      – management capacity limits the site population, more density isn’t needed

    • It has to do with permitting. Since these structures would fail inspection and would not be permitted (by the city) as habitable for humans a law is used to get around the permits. There is a law that allows structures under 120 sq ft to be built without inspections and permits that would be required for a home. This law was was intended to allow greenhouses, tool sheds, etc to be built without a permit but can and is being used to quickly develop tiny home villages.

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