Some Seattle residents speak out against new tiny-house village for homeless

SEATTLE -- This lot at 18th and Yesler in Seattle’s International District will soon have 38 tiny houses with 24-hour security.

It will shelter homeless families, students, veterans, singles and seniors who will be allowed to have pets. But this tiny-house village is sparking outrage from neighbors like Rebecca Somekhain, who has lived here for three years.

“To have this put up in our backyard without our input or our say is a slap in the face,” said Somekhain.

She says with a young family, this is not the neighborhood she envisions for raising her kids.

Other people who live near her, like this father has a different take on his neighbors being homeless families.

“If I had a kid, I want to make sure that every other kid doesn’t have to live on the street,” said a father who attended the meeting and said it’s natural for people to have a discomfort around homelessness. But, he added, they have to take responsibility for those feelings.

“That discomfort, if I feel that, I have to deal with, and not externalize that on someone else,” he said.

At this community meeting Tuesday night, Sharon Lee, with the Low Income Housing Institute, says tiny houses are better than tents but that homelessness is dividing communities rather than uniting them.

“It’s so unfortunate that ending homelessness has become a polarizing issue,” said Lee.

Ask Matt Olson, a Seattle resident; he says everyone wants a solution and Seattle residents uniting to petition a repeal to the head tax showed unity,  not divisiveness. But he also says tiny houses are not a step in the right direction.

“I think the city has made a big mistake to make these tiny house villages as the face of the homeless response. I think people, for better or worse, have come to see this as Seattle's homelessness response and they will have to address this sooner or later,” said Olson.

We caught up with Mayor Jenny Durkan, just hours after the City Council repealed the head tax that would have generated about $50 million to fight homelessness.

“The shelters and tiny houses villages are more humane but not permanent solutions,” said Durkan.

She says Seattle residents made it clear the city needs to listen and come up with better solutions.

“It became very clear to me people didn’t support this (head tax) and I think it’s really important that government listen to the people and when we don’t get it right, we reset,” said Durkan.

Just what that reset looks like is unclear right now.