'Tiny home' village sits empty until operating funds surface

The Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) says $2.3 million from King County was recently awarded to the agency to deploy two new ‘tiny home’ villages in the city of Tukwila, where up to 80 people could be housed.

But another new tiny home village, which just finished being constructed, is sitting empty in Seattle. A disagreement between LIHI and the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) means the South End Village does not have money to open as shelter. 

The small homes along Martin Luther King Junior Way South have never before been used. Workers at LIHI says the shelter is ready to admit clients, but funding that at one time was hoped to come from the county was instead awarded to other projects.

"We could open tomorrow, but they funded a village that was not going to open until November," said LIHI executive director, Sharon Lee. 

Money to build the community was approved before the money required to run it got a green light, Lee says. The Seattle City Council and then-Mayor Jenny Durkan were expected to fund the shelter’s operational budget, but Lee said that did not happen. Today, the Regional Homelessness Authority holds the responsibility of choosing which programs are funded. Lee worries the new authority is not fair. 

"The authority is brand new, and the leadership feels that they have to show they are boss," she said. "They come into town, they’re in charge." 

"If I really wanted to get rid of them, I would have defunded them on day three," said KCRHA CEO Marc Dones.

Dones made his comments during an Implementation Board meeting earlier in April, adding he does not have a problem with the ‘tiny homes’ model and insists he does not intend to halt them soon.

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Lee hopes the agency will reconsider, or LIHI might need to raise funds elsewhere. Until South End Village gets operational funding, the tiny homes will remain empty.