The tempestuous story of the Northlake Tiny House Village has taken an unexpected but happy turn.
In October, the Human Services Department (HSD) announced that it would be cutting off funding for the village and closing it as of December 31st (Northlake Tiny House Village To Close). This deadline was then moved back to December 9th (Northlake Tiny House Village Gets A New Deadline), and the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) informed residents that anyone remaining onsite as of this coming Monday, December 9th would be subject to arrest.
Jami Fecher, the pastor of Wallingford’s Gift of Grace Church and a member of the Northlake Village’s Community Advisory Council (CAC), has been working with Nickelsville since the crisis began to find a solution, along the way offering the option of having Gift of Grace step in as the legally responsible entity for the village (since HSD and LIHI were withdrawing, and Nickelsville didn’t have sufficient legal and financial resources to do so).
This arrangement would set Gift of Grace up as the operator of the village. That role would sit with Nickelsville, the organization born out of homeless activism during the Greg Nickels era. Instead, Gift of Grace would be “the ones you could sue,” as Jami put it.
Initially, the city refused the offer, and the PR (and humanitarian!) nightmare of police forcing homeless people out of their shelters just as winter sets in loomed. But last week, David Moseley, the Deputy Mayor of Operations, reached out to Fecher and arranged a meeting to see if something could be worked out.
The meeting went well, apparently. Two days ago, Jason Johnson (Acting Director of HSD) sent the following update to the Seattle City Council:
In October of this year, the Seattle Human Services Department (HSD) announced the contract for the Northlake Village would not be renewed in 2020 due to performance and compliance concerns, effectively closing the village by the end of this year.
The contracted village operator—the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI)—has been working around the clock to provide case management to interested village residents while preparing the program for closure, despite being blocked from the property by Nickelsville. LIHI owns the tiny houses, hygiene trailer, kitchen tent at the Northlake Village and set a December 9 target to begin removing structures to meet the end of program date.
As of December 4, LIHI has connected 11 households to other tiny house villages and permanent housing of the 18 households at Northlake Village at the time of the closure announcement. LIHI staff have been physically stationed outside of the village to accomplish this work. However, some residents continue to remain onsite and are not receiving professional case management and other services.
Since announcing the site closure, the City has been approached by a faith organization to temporarily sponsor the Northlake Village through the end of the original permit in March 2020. Given these ongoing conversations between the City, LIHI, Nickelsville activists, residents, and the faith organization, the City believes it could support a short-term agreement between stakeholders that allows residents to have full-time case management and housing connections, while remaining in Northlake until March 2020.
Therefore, the City has instructed LIHI to not remove LIHI property from the site on December 9. HSD will continue working with LIHI and the faith organization to ensure all decisions made are centered on the well-being of people living at the village.
It’s important to note that this only extends the timeline to March 2020, but a lot can happen in three months. I imagine that those three months can serve as a trial period for Nickelsville operating the village, and how that duty is carried out may influence decisions to come.
In the meantime, Gift of Grace and Nickelsville say they have already raised the $5,000 / month rent that must be paid to Seattle City Light (SCL) for the land. This number, I was told, was based on a legal requirement that SCL charge “fair market value” for land they lease out. I’m no real estate expert, but $5,000 / month is a lot to pay for an unimproved lot in the shadow of the ship canal bridge. I have calls in to the city to understand where this number came from.