Rev. Lawrence Willis, who directs the Pre-apprenticeship Construction Training Program, talks about the importance of tiny houses to providing people with stability as they look for longer-term housing options.
Rev. Lawrence Willis, who directs the Pre-apprenticeship Construction Training Program, talks about the importance of tiny houses to providing people with stability as they look for longer-term housing options.
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Students at the Seattle Vocational Institute briefly put down their hammers and saws on Wednesday, so Mayor Jenny Durkan could announce her plans to create more tiny houses and short-term measures to addressing affordability and homelessness using $11 million in proceeds from the sale of city-owned South Lake Union property expected to close this summer.

“We simply do not have the capacity now to move people out of the streets and the heartbreaking conditions they’re living in right now,” Durkan said.

The mayor’s “Building a Bridge to Housing for All” proposal is dependent on the sale of 1933 Minor Avenue going through this summer, and Durkan said her goal is to evaluate all sales of city property to see how they can advance goals around increasing housing affordability and addressing homelessness.

The proposal includes investing $5.5 million into a Bridge Housing Investment Strategy to increase the availability of short-term housing and shelter space. An Innovative Housing Strategies subcabinet will be evaluating options, and Durkan said the next two months will be focused on finding additional locations for tiny houses, shelters and encampments.

Office of Housing director Steve Walker tells the Capitol Hill Times sites could include city and private properties, churches, nonprofits and banked land that the city will eventually use for affordable housing projects.

Upgrading current sanctioned encampments will also be completed, but not using this $11 million in funding, she added

“Tiny Houses have housed over 300 residents in the tiny houses,” said Rev. Lawrence Willis. “Also, they have been used to transition into permanent housing.”

Willis serves on the board for the Low Income Housing Institute, which has been creating tiny houses around the city and, and also directs the Seattle Vocational Institute’s Pre-apprenticeship Construction Training Program.

The program began constructing tiny houses as projects two years ago, and attempts to complete two per quarter, Willis told CHT. Students were working on the 16th house during the Jan. 17 press conference.

Willis said the plan is to have more community construction events in the future, such as one held at SVI last August, where six houses were completed in a day, in order to increase production. LIHI has benefited from community partnerships, he said, and people are also now building tiny houses in their own backyards to donate.

The City of Seattle in the spring will invest in tiny houses and an encampment serving chronically homeless women. Jason Johnson, deputy director of Human Services, said it’s more about creating a safe place for women than providing new or additional services. A number of women using current low-barrier shelters are medically fragile and have experienced a level of trauma, he said.

“With the sale of this one property we are advancing multiple goals,” the mayor said.

Durkan’s proposal also includes using $2 million to pilot a rental housing assistance program, which would attempt to keep people waitlisted by the Seattle Housing Authority from becoming homeless while they wait for longer-term assistance.

The city reports nearly half of the 1,027 households issued an SHA Housing Choice Voucher in a 2015 lottery ended up experiencing homelessness during their wait.

Durkan said people need to be given more than just a housing voucher, and also be connected with case managers to help with finding long-term housing. She added there have been successes and failures with the voucher program.

The developer that is purchasing the 1933 Minor Avenue will provide $2 million of its required Mandatory Housing Affordability fee up front, as negotiated by the city, Durkan said, and another $1.2 million at the end, all of which will be invested in creating more affordable housing. The city council expects to have a full MHA program developed and complementary rezones completed by the end of 2018.

The city’s IT Communication Shop is currently on the property, and part of the sale proceeds will go toward its relocation.

Another $1 million will go toward design and pre-planning costs to construct a new Seattle Fire facility to serve the South Lake Union and Denny Triangle area.

While tiny houses and microunits are not a long-term solution, Durkan said, they are a cost-effective measure to address urgent short-term housing needs.

She said she recently sat down with other mayors from around the Puget Sound region and King County Executive Dow Constantine to talk about a larger strategy.

“We will address this as a region, as well,” she said. “The question of affordability is not just in Seattle. The question of homelessness is not just in Seattle.”