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LIHI: Nickelsville created ‘terrible situation’ in tiny home villages

A line of tiny houses stand with their backs to the adjacent street at a homeless encampment in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

A handful of tiny house residents claim that conditions have deteriorated since LIHI severed its contract with Nickelsville to run a trio of tiny house villages.

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Councilmember Kshama Sawant responded to complaints of rates and garbage at Othello Village, urging other council members to show their support for mediation between Nickelsville and the Low Income Housing Institute. Sawant urged the council to sign a letter from the Community Advisory Council for five of the city sponsored tiny house villages, that they sent to the city over concerns of “the lack of appropriate oversight and accountability.”

“LIHI and Nickelsville have both made tremendous contributions and rather than lose all those contributions that we urge mediation between the two parties and I feel like that’s the best way forward, and I hope you will join me,” Sawant said.

Councilmember Bruce Harrell also pushed for mediation, citing “really good work” done by Nickelsville in the past. Sawant said she believes LIHI would be agreeable to mediation, and that the city council could hopefully “bring them to the table.”

LIHI Executive Director Sharon Lee, though, had a different take, largely thanks to Nickelsville leader Scott Morrow.

“Scott and a few of his loyal supporters told everybody to go on strike,” Lee said. “They created a terrible situation – they locked the gates so that people couldn’t get into the village, they created a crisis for people who were scared of leaving the village, they started throwing donated food away and they started throwing trash on the ground.”

Lee said that Nickelsville has made great progress at Georgetown and Northlake tiny villages, but with Scott Morrow bunkered down at Othello, it’s been extremely challenging.

“Scott Morrow is still camped out there,” Lee said. “He is interfering with people using the kitchen. He’s using the community kitchen as his office. You know it’s a place where everybody wants to use the kitchen and he’s in the way. Then, he’s still sleeping in the community tent where all the children’s toys and bicycles and things like that are.”

Lee accused Morrow of turning a blind eye to rampant drug abuse at Othello before their contract was severed and says it is still out of control. According to a report from a female resident, drug deals were commonly occurring among “people in leadership.”

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Rather than investigating the allegation, the resident was outed by Morrow to the people she was accusing, who then allegedly retaliated against her.

“She was so fearful and scared for her life,” Lee said.

According to LIHI, rampant drug use is why it installed the security cameras.

Scott Morrow

According to Lee, they ask the city and the Seattle Police Department every week to help get Morrow off the Othello premises. LIHI owns the property and the city pays for the contract to run Othello. Even so, every week Lee said she is told to be patient.

According to Lee, that plays right into Nickelsville’s plans.

“What Nickelsville does is that they make a concerted effort to have people call and they show up and testify,” Lee described. “They basically badger the city council members so that they can get attention.”

She believes some of the people using and selling drugs are some of the same people talking to the city council on behalf of Nickelsville, and asking for mediation.

That being so, LIHI is reluctant to allow Nickelsville to continue running any of the tiny villages.

“When it was run under Nickelsville, they were letting people in leadership positions use and sell drugs,” Lee said. “There’s no way we’re going to let Nickelsville operate Othello Village. We need the drug activities and the problems to stop.”

LIHI says it doesn’t want mediation, but rather help removing Morrow from Othello Village, ending illegal drug activities, and enforcing the code of conduct that strictly prohibits violence and weapons.

As for why Morrow has yet to be removed, a representative with Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office said that the city is “in close communication with LIHI,” and that “both the Human Services Department and SPD are monitoring the transition to ensure any solution is long-term, peaceful, and helps residents secure the services they need to find permanent housing.”

In the meantime, LIHI doubled down on its stance that Nickelsville should not be allowed to continue running tiny home villages.

“We have the contract. We’re not going to go back,” said Lee.“We’re not going back to a situation where we contract with Nickelsville. They’ve been shown to [be] untrustworthy and they’ve been lying and distorting the truth. So if anything, the situation in terms of relationship has gotten worse. We have no intention of working with them.”

KIRO Radio is still awaiting a response to requests for an interview.

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