Plan to build permanent tiny house village in Pierce County takes another step forward

SPANAWAY, Wash. — A new tiny house village is coming to Pierce County, that is unlike anything that already exists in Washington state. Leaders behind the project are hoping it will be a giant step towards helping to solve the homeless crisis.

The plan has been controversial, drawing fiery public comment and launching meetings that have lasted hours, including a six-plus hour meeting on March 21.

Now the plan is taking another step forward. The Tacoma Rescue Mission is about to close on 82 acres of land in Spanaway that would ultimately be a permanent home for about 300 people.

The parcel of land near Cross-Base Highway South & Spanaway Loop Road South will be called the Pierce County Village, serving about 30% of the county’s chronically homeless.

“That’s a big dent. Yes it’s ambitious. When we started out it was, ‘Do we even think we can do this?’ And now it’s, ‘Yeah, we can,’” said Duke Paulson, executive director of the Tacoma Rescue Mission. Paulson said he traveled across the country to look for solutions, including Chicago, East Saint Louis, and L.A.’s Skid Row. He found answers in Austin, Texas, where a similar village has been operational for more than a decade.

“I was blown away in Austin,” Paulson said. “It wasn’t just a program or a place to live. It was a truly a community of people,” he said.

Steve O’Ban is senior counsel for the Pierce County Executive’s office.

“I had my doubts initially, and that’s why I wanted to go down there,” O’Ban said.  “Once I did that, I knew we needed one in Pierce County.”

The difference between this tiny house village and existing ones is that residents will be expected to work a job and pay rent – about $500 a month. The homes are permanent, with running water and power, and will have a bathroom. They will run from about 200 to 400 square feet, and the larger ones will also have a kitchenette.

“Just that little bit of money gives them a sense of ownership and responsibility,” O’Ban said. “Requiring them to pay rent, learn what it’s like to give to their community, and obey the law. Those are key elements to us.”

The village will also have a big community element, with a farm and gathering spaces. Most people will work at jobs on-site, gardening and maintaining facilities.

At the end of March, the Pierce County Council approved $22 million dollars for the project. The funding will go towards the $3.7 million for the land sale, to building roads, get water and sewer in, and start building infrastructure. It will be up to the Tacoma Rescue Mission to come up with the rest of the funding, which could cost about $60 million.

Some people in Spanaway are worried the new campus will be just over a mile away from Spanaway Elementary School.

“I don’t think in this area it’s the right place to be. That concerns me, the exposure of what the younger children will have,” said a woman who works for the school district and didn’t want to be named.

O’Ban says he gets it, but also points to the concept’s success in Austin, including with neighbors.

“If I was living next to it I’d be concerned, too,” O’Ban said. “Once they see it in operation, the fear evaporates.”

Tacoma Rescue Mission says illegal drugs will not be allowed on site and only people with a last known address in Pierce County will qualify.

“We’re targeting the hardest to serve, the most in need,” Paulson said. “We’re really excited to get it done.”

There was a legal challenge to the project brought up on Thursday afternoon concerning development regulations.  O’Ban said the challenge does not apply to the project and he is not concerned.

Tacoma Rescue Mission will run the village and hopes to have people starting to move in by 2025.