Lawsuit claims Seattle skipped steps in permitting homeless encampment

SEATTLE — A new lawsuit claims that the city of Seattle appears to have broken its own rules in approving the permit for a homeless encampment in South Lake Union.

KIRO 7 was the first to show the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of the Olympia-based Freedom Foundation, to Sharon Lee, the executive director of the Low-Income Housing Institute. Both institute and the city of Seattle are named in the lawsuit.

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"Our initial reaction, of course, was surprise," Lee said, "because we're trying to do all we can to house people who are really vulnerable."

The lawsuit alleges that, before applying for a permit for a tiny house village at 800 Aloha Street, the city failed to do appropriate community outreach and that the process "requires the establishment of a Community Advisory Committee."

"It's unrealistic to expect we would be setting up the advisory committee before the public meetings," Lee said. "Now that we have people interested in the advisory committee, we'll be interviewing them and selecting a diverse population."

The lawsuit also claims that "the City failed to undertake the required environmental review" before approving the site.

The attorney for the Freedom Foundation, Dick Stephens, said he's asked for records to show why the site could possibly be exempt.

"We're kind of in the dark because the process was not open," Stephens said.

The lawsuit is just the latest obstacle for a tiny house village that the city refused to confirm to KIRO 7 for weeks in late April and early May, even as internal emails newly obtained by KIRO 7 show city employees discussing the "siting of a sanctioned village at 800 Aloha" as far back as April 18.

The city held another community meeting about the site on Thursday night, and some residents voiced their concerns over drug and alcohol use allowed inside the tiny homes and increased crime the encampment might cause. Others stated their support for the site and its services.

Lee said the site, which will have security and be monitored 24/7, is undergoing an environmental review right now.

And when it comes to another of the lawsuit's claims -- that the city ignores its own code that limits transitional encampments to three -- Lee said the city's ordinances allow for additional homeless camps, too.

"There's a provision for a temporary one," she said.

"So you're saying this could be allowed under the temporary provision?" KIRO 7 reporter Linzi Sheldon asked.

"Right," she said.

KIRO 7 contacted the city attorney's office, which responded, "We fully intend to defend the City in this suit, and we're currently assessing the claims."