The fate of a formerly authorized tiny house village in Northlake is up in the air after the city of Seattle called off an eviction scheduled for Dec. 9.
Nickelsville Northlake, a tiny house village run by the self-managed Nickelsville community and sponsored by the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), was told that it would have to leave a piece of property owned by Seattle City Light after relations between Nickelsville and LIHI broke down in spring of 2019.
Nickelsville and LIHI were unable to come to an agreement on a memorandum of understanding to govern the operations of the encampment.
LIHI wanted assurances that people would not be kicked out of the village without established criteria. Many vocal Nickelsville community members felt that this and other rules would put too many restrictions on their democratic, self-managed model.
The village stayed open during 2019 despite the dissolution of relations between LIHI and Nickelsville, but the Seattle Human Services Department leaders decided to eliminate their contract with the Northlake site because it wasn’t moving enough people into housing and residents put restrictions on the movements of city officials and LIHI case managers.
Originally, the city said that Nickelsville Northlake would have to shut down by the end of the year with a move-out date of Dec. 9 so that LIHI could reclaim the hygiene trailer, the tiny houses and restore the site to its original condition.
The plan changed on Dec. 5. LIHI’s Executive Director Sharon Lee sent an email saying that the removal had been called off.
“Northlake Village will not be closing on Monday as planned as Deputy Mayor [David] Moseley is meeting with a potential church to sponsor the village until March 2020,” Lee wrote in an email. “HSD originally required that LIHI vacate the city-owned site by end of this year.”
The Gift of Grace Lutheran Church agreed to take on the role of sponsoring the village through March 2020 when the permit for the tiny house village officially expires. However, there is no guarantee that the city of Seattle will continue to allow the village to use the property, which it currently rents for roughly $5,000 a month.
The city, LIHI and the village are currently in talks, said Will Lemke, spokesperson for the city of Seattle.
“We are working to find a solution that ensures case management/resources can access the site. If we can come to an agreement, the village will remain until the end of the March 2020 permit,” Lemke wrote in an email.
Gift of Grace Lutheran Church currently hosts a 15-person shelter for the Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (share), an organization that is separate from but related to Nickelsville. The congregation agreed to offer its sponsorship to Nickelsville if it operates in the same way as the existing share shelter, meaning that it would be self-managed and largely independent, said Pastor Jami Fecher.
There were only three major stumbling blocks — the $5,000 per month in rent for the city-owned site, the fact that LIHI still owns much of the infrastructure and the operating budget. The city announced that it would end its contract for the Northlake site and the City Council did not include funding for it in the 2020 budget approved in November.
A preliminary budget produced by Nickelsville suggested that residents felt they would need a little more than $80,000 to keep the site open for a year.
The congregation decided that it would be possible to overcome those obstacles, Fecher said. However, things are still up in the air.
“Until I see it happen, or it’s happening, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I only know what we’re going to be able to do,” Fecher said.
As of Dec. 5, 11 of the 18 residents have moved out of the village in the midst of this uncertainty, according to LIHI.
Residents are unsure of what the future will hold, but they’re not opposed to case management or other services, said Alex Finch, a Northlake resident.
“LIHI was the problem in the first place,” Finch said. “They moved out completely and their case managers up and left.”
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. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC.
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