At an 8,000-square-foot warehouse in Seattle, about a dozen volunteers plan to work six days a week building at least 10 shed-size homes for the homeless each month.
Sound Foundations NW and other construction companies are producing 100 tiny houses this summer that are expected to accommodate up to 130 people. The homes will be in two locations in North Seattle, potentially doubling the size of another village.
Seattle has included these villages in its record $ 167 million budget for homelessness. The materials for each house typically cost around $ 2,500, although they currently cost $ 4,500 due to a national wood shortage, according to Josh Castle, director of advocacy and community engagement for the Low-Income Housing Institute, the city’s prime contractor for village operations. It costs an average of $ 600,000 a year to run each village with case management and food, Castle said.
The city is benefiting from an infusion of federal funds to alleviate growing frustration among community members and business owners over apparent homelessness. While accommodations that keep many people together in one room were considered the most cost-effective option, data from nonprofits has shown that people who live outdoors typically prefer to go to a tiny house than to emergency shelter.
The villages that will be assembled this summer are just the beginning of a broader campaign for shelters. There are 298 houses in eight villages across the city. Barb Oliver, Director of Operations and Volunteer Coordinator at Sound Foundations NW, and other boosters hope to double that number by the end of 2022 by leveraging philanthropy and state and federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Councilor Andrew Lewis said “I’d love to do more, but that’s as quick as being overwhelmed” [Human Services Department] Lewis, heads the council’s homelessness committee and launched a campaign earlier this year to get businesses to donate startup costs to villages. He called the campaign “It Takes a Village.”
Seattle leans more towards the tiny house village model than perhaps any other city, although Los Angeles County hopes to have 425 portable, pre-fabricated composite plastic capsules by the end of the year that can be made and placed in Everett, Washington Minutes.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said the pandemic had exacerbated the homelessness crisis and resulted in more temporary housing.
“These new investments in tiny home villages are effective protection options to end a person’s experience of homelessness and add much-needed new protection capacity to provide safer spaces for more people living in our parks and sidewalks,” Durkan said in a press release .
While tiny houses are effective in slowing the return to the streets cycle, they don’t necessarily end someone’s homelessness. More than 7% of the people who left the villages in 2020 went back to emergency shelters, and a fifth went to “a place not intended for human habitation,” according to data from the village operators. Slightly less than half – 47% or 118 people – of the population left the country in search of permanent housing.
But new spaces for the homeless, including several recently rented hotels as accommodation, can also mean more warehouse moves. They were largely suspended during the pandemic, but the city slowly increased the move this spring.
The Low-Income Housing Institute, which operates nearly every tiny house village in Seattle and is expanding its portfolio of villages across the state, will operate the three new projects. The nonprofit also operates villages in Tacoma and Olympia and is opening new villages in Skyway and Bellingham this summer. The donations for Lewis’ Tiny Home campaign will most likely go to the institute.
“It’s not ‘We can end homelessness,'” said Oliver of The Hope Factory in Sodo. “We will end homelessness”