Governor, Seattle mayor visit factory; back tiny house villages as “efficient” homelessness solution

A statewide push to fight homelessness is in full force. Encampments in Tacoma and under I-5 near Northgate were getting cleared out on Friday.

This year, Washington lawmakers approved $800 million to address homelessness – more than ever before. A major chunk of that – about $300 million – goes towards rapid housing, like tiny house villages.

The work to build them brought Governor Jay Inslee to South Seattle on Friday, to visit Sound Foundations Northwest – a factory churning out tiny homes, with the work largely done by volunteers.

Both Inslee and Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell briefly got in on the building work during the visit.

“One thing the governor didn’t brag much about is his carpenter skills,” Harrell said with a laugh. “I think we share that flaw as well,” he said. But Harrell pointed out it is not fundamental to how Sound Foundations Northwest works. Carpentry skills are not necessary.

The tiny homes get rapidly built by volunteers. The process is streamlined and uses assembly line-style, Ikea-like instructions to get the job done.

“Twenty-two cities in the United States and three other countries use our system – notably Little Rock is the latest,” said Barb Oliver, director of operations at Sound Foundations Northwest. Oliver was also made “Washingtonian of the Day” by Inslee for her work.

The homes built here go all over Western Washington. The temporary housing piece of the homelessness equation is particularly important right now as cities across the sound are putting in policies like camping bans – including in Everett, Edmonds, and Tacoma this year. Kent is also considering expanding its current camping ban. Mercer Island passed a ban last year.

The state is also well underway in its effort to clear out encampments under or along highways.

“We’re moving dozens of people a week off our right of ways. Dearborn was a huge settlement of like 70, 80 tents under the 520 bridge. They’re no longer there,” Inslee said.

Inslee said the push to address homelessness combined with more people moving to Washington State, means there simply isn’t enough housing, especially affordable  options – and tiny house villages are part of the solution.

“There’s nothing tiny about tiny homes. People get their tiny home and it’s a step forward for them to be permanently housed,” Inslee said.

“It’s very rapid - we don’t have to wait four years to build it, we can get people in a few months out of the rain, into a safe place,” Inslee said. “We demand an end to homelessness and we demand an efficient way to do it. That’s what we’re doing at these tiny homes.”

The houses cost $4,200 each to build, and each home is insulated and heated with a small porch. The work is done with deeply discounted materials purchased with Lowes as a partner. Volunteer slots are already filled up until January.

Inslee also visited Hobson Place on Friday, a branch of the Downtown Emergency Service Center. The shelter provides assistance to people who are unhoused with disabilities, or other unique medical needs. Inslee’s office said Hobson’s place has received about $15.4 million in state funding.