Tiny Homes, Big Problems

Seattle will shutter tiny house village after resident lockout

The Northlake tiny house village is slated to be closed by the end of the year while Council Member Kshama Sawant and other leaders attempt to resurrect the project. (Courtesy Low-Income Housing Institute)

A tiny house village project in the Northlake neighborhood of Seattle went awry last month when employees from the Low-Income Housing Institute (LIHI) informed residents that the development would be shuttered by the end of the year. This shutdown comes seven months after the perimeter gates of the 19-bed village were locked by residents against the city and its contractors over fears of a takeover. This marks the second time the city has defunded a tiny house village program without providing an alternative housing solution for its formerly homeless residents.

The village has been named Northlake and is internally organized by Nickelsville, a group of homeless and formerly homeless residents of the village. LIHI states that its members were gradually made to feel unwelcome in the village by members of Northlake; John Travena, a resident of the village, explained that “autonomy is very important,” and that its members have attempted to “control who comes in and goes out.” Sharon Lee, the executive director of LIHI, explained that her group “know[s] that there are fundamental differences that make it impossible for us to work together.”

Many of the residents of Northlake are eager to keep the village in operation because it provides a positive, more independent alternative to the typical homeless shelter model. Village residents elect their leaders internally each week and have essentially run the property themselves by handling security, kitchen duties, and other operations as a community. The model is catching on in Seattle (albeit slowly), where residents can also host homeless members of the community in tiny homes built in their backyard.

Though city spokesperson Will Lemke stated in a press release that the village will shut down on December 31st and be returned to Seattle City Light, the city’s publicly owned electric power utility, Council Member Kshama Sawant is currently making efforts to keep Northlake in operation while developing additional tiny home villages. Brooke Brod, a Northlake neighbor and member of the village’s advisory council, said that “all of us would be very sad to see the permit not renewed at Northlake,” and imagined that “for some folks at the city, the perspective is ‘this is a thorn in our side; it will go away if we don’t renew the permit.”

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