Seattle City Council members took a step Monday toward radically raising the total number of “transitional encampments” — tent cities, tiny house villages or parking lots for vehicle campers — the city will allow at one time as a strategy to address homelessness.
Sponsored by Councilmember Kshama Sawant, the legislation is replacing an ordinance that expires next month. It would allow up to 40 encampments, either tiny house villages, tent cities or vehicle safe lots, and make it easier to site them on land owned by religious organizations, the county and the state. It would also allow encampments in residential zones.
“To be very clear, none of us who’s been advocating for tiny house villages … think that this is a replacement for permanent housing,” Sawant said, “but while homelessness exists, there is absolutely no justification for people to be left unsheltered.”
The proposal was voted out of committee Monday; the full City Council is expected to vote on the proposal Feb. 18.
Seattle has leaned especially into tiny house villages as a solution for the city’s lack of available housing and shelter: The eight villages that have sprung up since city-sanctioned encampments were first officially permitted in 2015 are, by many accounts, more popular among the homeless population than more traditional shelters. Most villages have seen higher rates of people leaving for permanent housing than other emergency shelters, according to city data.
In the Monday committee meeting on homelessness strategies and investments, five of the six present council members voted to refer the measure to the full council next week. Councilmember Alex Pedersen abstained from voting.
The meeting was tense: Different council members proposed a slew of amendments that weren’t made public until Sunday at 3 p.m., according to Councilmember Tammy Morales, who said she was “a little frustrated” by the last-minute changes.
Many residents of current tiny house villages in North Seattle, Georgetown and West Seattle pleaded with the council to allow the number to expand.
“Many of the villagers have friends and loved ones in the street and ask me daily if we have openings,” said Andrew Constantino, a resident and site coordinator at Georgetown tiny house village. “Many times the only answer is to not give up and to call again soon.”
One key point of discussion was whether 40 is too many authorized encampments for Seattle, but Councilmember Andrew Lewis, who chairs the committee, called the number “symbolic.”
However, funding for villages is still in question, even if the legislation passes — the City Council only set aside money to open two more villages in the 2020 budget.
Making the ceiling so high gave some council members pause.
Lewis proposed an amendment that would only raise the number of encampments to 20 in order to manage the public’s expectation of how many villages would actually open, and Pedersen proposed a substitute bill that raised the number only to 10.
Both proposals were voted down by the rest of the council members.
“If all 40 [encampments] were built to the maximum capacity, we would be able to bring everyone inside,” said Councilmember Dan Strauss, explaining his decision to vote for Sawant’s legislation.
Pedersen was the only member who didn’t vote yes on the amended legislation. His version would have instituted a requirement that there be actual solid structures in the encampments, not tents, as well as case management and 24-hour security.
Other council members felt Pedersen’s amendments were too prescriptive or vague. Strauss and Lewis said they might support more specific amendments next week when the legislation comes before the full council.
“With the current legislation — it’s not a tiny home village bill, it’s an encampment expansion bill currently,” Pedersen said. “I was trying to amend it to make sure we’re doing a solution that’s been working well lately.”