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New lawsuit aims to close down Seattle’s tiny home villages

The tiny house village in Seattle's South Lake Union. (Carolyn Ossorio, KIRO Radio)

A grassroots watchdog group is suing the City of Seattle over its use of tiny home villages to combat homelessness, with the hope of ending the shelter program altogether.

Safe Seattle filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court on December 4. It is suing the city and the Low Income Housing Institute “for operating these tiny house villages without proper permitting and without doing the things they need to do to run what are, in fact, assisted living facilities,” said David Preston, with Safe Seattle.

In response to the homelessness crisis, Seattle has started a handful of tiny house villages around the city. The tiny homes are small spaces with beds, heating, access to water, showers, and bathrooms. They also are aimed at getting people into permanent housing. The city contracts with LIHI to operate the villages.

Safe Seattle promotes itself as a non-profit watchdog for Seattle’s public safety and government accountability. The group is now suing the city and LIHI in an effort to shut the newest tiny home village in South Lake Union. Preston and Safe Seattle say that the villages violate residential zoning codes

KIRO Radio

“We’re are asking them to provide their operations plan as they agreed to do in the their contract with the City of Seattle, and have not done,” he said. “We are asking them to get permits for these structures they are housing people in, and we are asking them to do all the necessary requirements to ensure they are providing adequate standard of care to the people living in these tiny houses.”

Preston argues that he had previously tried other avenues to influence city policy around shelters, but those efforts were not fruitful and he did not receive adequate responses from leaders. The lawsuit is his latest such attempt. He claims that LIHI does not move people off the street and into permanent housing. Rather, it acts like a “warehouse for poor people,” creating a revenue stream for its organizers.

“After years of going back-and-forth with them and getting nothing, I decided to ramp it up a little bit and take legal action to stop them from expanding this network of shack villages until they can do it right,” he said.

“They told us that there would only be three (such villages), and this was just an experimental program and we were going to take a good hard look at it before we moved forward,” Preston said. “And now we got, what, nine or 10 of these things? And not one of them has proven its worth.”

“They are spread around the City of Seattle,” he said. “There is one in my Highland Park neighborhood called Camp Second Chance, there’s one in the Northlake neighborhood, there’s one in the Licton Springs neighborhood off North Aurora, and there’s one in the Whittier Heights neighborhood in North Ballard, and there are a few more.”

Preston argues that squatter camps tend to pop up nearby the tiny home villages, too.

The Safe Seattle lawsuit focuses on shutting down the Aloha Street tiny village in South Lake Union, but Preston hopes it will tip the scales against other low-barrier villages until the city can provide a better plan for homelessness.

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