The Seattle City Council voted Tuesday to allow the creation of up to 40 tent cities, tiny house villages, or parking lots where people living in their cars can camp — a huge increase from the number the city currently allows.
The ordinance reflects a dramatic shift in Seattle’s attitude toward these temporary places for homeless people to live while waiting to get into housing: It allows encampments to exist indefinitely with renewal of a permit once a year and allows them in residential zones.
The first city-permitted tent cities opened in 2015. Because of opposition at the time, the city adopted legislation, which expires next month, that applied a built-in sunset to some of the villages.
This new ordinance has no such end date. Sponsored by Councilmember Kshama Sawant, the legislation makes it easier to site these “transitional encampments” on land owned by religious organizations, the county and the state. It would also allow encampments in residential zones.
Six of the nine councilmembers voted in favor of the ordinance; councilmembers M. Lorena González and Teresa Mosqueda weren’t present, and Alex Pedersen voted “no.”
Pedersen presented alternatives to the ordinance when it was in committee last week and again on Tuesday. His amendments and substitute bills, all of which were rejected by the council, would have established a limit of 15 encampments, required that the ordinance expire after three years, and banned tents at the encampments.
“This is really a tent encampment expansion instead of tiny house villages, as the ordinance was originally advertised,” Pedersen said to his fellow councilmembers.
After the passage of the ordinance, two questions still remain: Where funding for any more tiny house villages will come from — there’s only funding for two more tiny house villages in the 2020 budget, and that money could go instead to shelters — and who will operate the villages.
Most are currently operated by the Low-Income Housing Institute (LIHI), after the organization booted the only other operator, the homeless activist group Nickelsville out of their villages last year. The ensuing split has forced many in the advocacy community and the homeless community to take sides.
Nickelsville supporters speaking at Tuesday’s council meeting said the city has allowed LIHI to run a “monopoly” on tiny house villages, since it is now effectively the city’s only operator of them.