by Elizabeth Turnbull
On April 15, the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) opened 50 new tiny houses located in the Central District and South Lake Union to provide housing for people experiencing homelessness. The new units, which were built in roughly a month, opened following Mayor Jenny Durkan’s March 3 proclamation of a Civil Emergency due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Lola Najera, one of the residents of the new tiny houses located at a new tiny house village, moved in on the morning of April 16 and said that being able to socially distance has felt wonderful.
“The most important thing to me is, I’ve always had a dream that I would have a door that locks and a window that will give me light, that I’m safe, and that’s what really, really means a lot to me, is just my safety,” Najera said.
For Najera, the coronavirus pandemic is the reason she found herself without a home. She moved out of her daughter’s house where her five grandchildren live, for fear that she would contract the virus from her family. Now Najera describes herself as the happiest girl in Seattle because of her new home.
“I’m just overwhelmed, it’s wonderful, it’s beautiful,” Najera said.
Due to the coronavirus and Mayor Durkan’s proclamation of a Civil Emergency, the process of providing the new units was fast-tracked in regards to bureaucratic barriers and permitting, among other things, according to Josh Castle, Advocacy and Community Engagement Director at LIHI. Castle hopes that the city will see that there is an urgent need to set up housing in a quick manner as long as the crisis of homelessness persists.
“It shouldn’t take an emergency like this for the city or any government entity to understand that you know, we’re dealing with a [homelessness] crisis here and we need to respond to it quickly,” Castle said.
While the tiny houses are not quarantine sites, Castle says that they provide an important place for residents to practice social distancing, something that is not possible for many individuals forced to live on the streets or in communal shelters.
Capable of housing up to 60 individuals experiencing homelessness, the new tiny housing units are in two locations: the new T.C. Spirit Village at 612 22nd Avenue in the Central District and the expansion of the Lake Union Village (LUV) located at 800 Aloha Street in South Lake Union (the expansion doubled its previous size).
The units were created quickly — and despite being required to follow strict social distancing measures — neighbors, volunteers, and LIHI staff were able to construct the new units in less than a month.
Each individual house is 8 by 12 feet, and has insulation, electricity, heat, windows, a lockable door — and costs roughly $2,700 per unit to build. In addition, each village as a whole includes plumbed on-site facilities with showers, toilets, laundry, and a community kitchen.
LIHI says that in addition to housing, T.C. Spirit Village and the expanded Lake Union Village provide food, safety, and on-site case management for vulnerable individuals at risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
The Lake Union Village provides shelter for homeless individuals living with mental illness, alcoholism and chemical dependency, and the T.C. Spirit Village will receive referrals of Native Americans, Alaskan Natives, and African Americans who are underserved and over-represented in the homeless population.
Built on land owned by the Christ Spirit Church, the T.C. Spirit Village includes 28 tiny houses, providing shelter for as many as 32 residents, and includes a community kitchen, a hygiene building with restrooms, showers, a security pavilion, and a laundry facility, as well as staff and counseling offices, according to LIHI.
“We hope that it will show the city and the community at large that all of humanity is affected by this virus and that we all can play an important role in trying to do something,” said Pastor Willie C. Seals, Jr. of Christ Spirit Church. “We are our brother’s keeper.”
On-site case management and 24/7 staffing are also available at T.C. Spirit Village, to help residents obtain housing, employment, health care, education and other services. Members of the Christ Spirit Church are providing donations, services, food and other support. In addition, the village receives operational support from the Seattle Human Services Department.
The creation of the new housing units in both villages was made possible by help from many individuals such as the pre-apprenticeship students in the Tulalip Tribes TERO Program, who constructed 13 of the 28 tiny houses at the T.C. Spirit Village. In addition, Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner donated funds to build 9 of the 22 new tiny houses at the Lake Union Village, according to LIHI.
Elizabeth Turnbull is a recent journalism graduate with a passion for writing human-centric pieces. Some of her most recent work includes writing for the Jordan Times where she highlighted issues faced by refugees.
Featured image: a tiny house village in Seattle, courtesy of the Seattle City Council.