SHARE's Tent City 5 (TC5) encampment intends to move to its new location on Port of Seattle property as planned despite a lawsuit challenging the lease of the site and the city of Seattle’s use of its state of emergency to combat homelessness.
Tent City 5, one of six sanctioned tent encampments in the city, will likely begin its move onto the Port of Seattle Tsubota property in Interbay on Nov. 16, just before the deadline to leave its current location. The encampment will occupy 12,000 square feet of the 18,000 square-foot lot.
The Port of Seattle voted unanimously in September to sign a lease with the city to use the land for $10 per year to house the roughly 70 homeless people living in TC5. A source familiar with the matter said the lawsuit caused a scramble; city officials questioned whether the move should proceed.
The lawsuit, filed by Elizabeth Campbell, is a sprawling document that advances several arguments against the legality of tiny-home encampments operated by the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), labor practices in self-managed encampments and whether it is permissible for the port to lease its land at such a low rate for purposes outside of “economic development activities.”
Fundamentally, the lawsuit questions if the city has overstepped its authority under the state of emergency, and whether the use of that authority to sidestep certain environmental procedures put the city in violation of its lease agreement with the port.
The declaration of a state of emergency frees municipalities from some government red tape, particularly around contracting and competitive bidding. Declaring an emergency should speed up the delivery of relief and to bring in state and federal resources.
Campbell said that the city has decided it’s not required to comply with various legal requirements such as its own municipal code, building code and land use and building permits, which she says violates its lease with the port.
The result is substandard housing for homeless people, Campbell said, adding that it isn’t clear that the city should be able to dispense with building, land-use, fire and health codes.
“It isn’t clear that is a get-out-of-jail-free pass for the city,” she said.
City officials do not comment on pending litigation and as of Nov. 13 had not been formally served. In fact, Campbell did not know how they had found out about the suit, which was filed in King County Superior Court on Oct. 27.
However, the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) confirmed that tiny houses like those in the authorized tent encampments are permitted like detached accessory dwelling units, meaning they “must meet current standards of the Seattle residential, building, mechanical, electrical, energy, environmentally critical areas, land use, and shoreline codes,” wrote Wendy Shark, a spokesperson for SDCI.
“She speaks for nobody in our community.”
Tiny houses and the tent communities meet all the city’s requirements, said Sharon Lee, executive director of LIHI.
The homes are insulated, heated and will have electricity.
TC5 residents were shocked to hear about the lawsuit. Some campers were incensed that Campbell would intervene in the move.
“She speaks for nobody in our community,” said Michael Clifton, a resident of TC5. “What she’s doing is making it very, very difficult for elderly and handicapped people to get out of the weather.”
Clifton said stopping the move would keep vulnerable people exposed to the elements just as the weather turns from nasty to dangerous. Already this year, 78 people have died outside, according to the Medical Examiner.
The community will extend an open invitation to Campbell, Clifton said, offering to cook up his béchamel sauce he learned as a sous chef in the French Quarter in New Orleans.
“We would roll out the red carpet for Elizabeth,” Clifton said. “See what it’s like on a day like this to be in an 8-by-6 tent where everything’s coming in on you from all sides. It would change her perspective.”
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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