I recently visited Quixote Village in Olympia. The Village is becoming famous, in no small part because of a February 20, 2014 NY Times article.
The Village provides homes for 29 low and no-income individuals, each in their own 8×18 house, every house equipped with a single captain’s bed sporting three drawers, a locally made table, and a sink and toilet.
I met with residents Johnathan Buckingham and Arin Long who moved into their homes at Christmas. They have their privacy, and they have their community. They eat together in their on-site community center. The center offers a kitchen, dining tables, showers and a washer-dryer for a buck. They are expected to pay a percentage of their income every month as rent.
The residents lived for years together in a community of tents, where they had to move every 60-90 days depending on their host. They now have predictable heat, indoor plumbing and a solid roof. On site they have a case manager who helps to connect them with needed service, employment opportunities and permanent housing.
Arin invited me inside her home where she proudly showed me her drawings and her wall butterflies, pointed out the curtains made by members of a local church and the beautiful handmade quilt sewn by women from the state prison. As Arin said to me, “It takes a community to create this community.”
Tim Ransom, President of the Board of Directors of Panza joined us. Panza, a faith-based non-profit organization, supported the predecessor Camp Quixote for years. Learn more about Panza here.
Tim and his colleagues spearheaded the development of the Quixote Village, persistently cajoling the City of Olympia, Thurston County, local tribes, philanthropic organizations and champions within the legislature to find them a permanent site and provide construction funds. After seven years of perseverance, Panza obtained the necessary permits, received significant, public support, raised over $3 million, acquired a long term property lease from Thurston County at $1/year, built the homes, and will continue to operate the Village.
The Village is self-governed. Like their tent city before, the Villagers agree to a strict code of conduct – no alcohol or drugs allowed anywhere within the village. They expect everyone to keep their place clean and the noise down. No overnight visitors are allowed unless a background check has been conducted first.
Here’s what I learned:
These 29 units have been constructed well, using good building materials. Skilled crafts people who were paid prevailing wages built them.
- The Villagers participated in the design of the cottages, the lay out, and the rules.
- The Villagers are expected to have a plan to move toward a healthy and productive life.
- Quixote Village is a model that can be emulated anywhere. Tim said he would post the blueprints on line so other cities can build on their success.
- The self-governing approach is a success.
- At a finished cost of roughly $19,000, each house provides a dignified living space for a person who is looking to move off the streets and get ready for training, a job and a permanent space.
According to the recent One-Night Count, nearly 3000 people were estimated to be homeless in King County. The problem of living outside or in cars or in temporary shelters isn’t just a Seattle problem: it’s a regional problem.
We should take a page out of Olympia’s book and create a network of decent housing for people across King County. To be fair, I suggest we prorate the amount of housing that each city assumes, based on population. To be practical, let’s start with a goal of creating 1000 units to shelter those who need it within three years, shared among each incorporated city and unincorporated King County too. It’s not enough, but it’s a start.
I checked the latest the Census data and made some rounding assumptions. The population of King County is about 2,000,000. The population of Seattle is 635,000. The population of Bellevue is 126,000. If each city took its fair share, here’s a sampling of what it would look like:
Seattle: 32% of the County population would be responsible for building 317 units.
Auburn: 4% of the population: 37 units
Bellevue: 6% of the population: 63 units.
Bothell: 2% of the population: 18 units
Federal Way: 5% of the population: 46 units
Kent: 6% of the population: 62 units
Kirkland: 3% of the population: 26 units
Mercer Island: 4% of the population: 37 units
Redmond: 3% of the population: 28 units
Renton: 5% of the population: 48 units
SeaTac: 1% of the population: 14 units
Tukwila: 1% of the population: 10 units
Or, consider having property-rich cities such as Medina contribute their pro-rata value share to help build on sites in unincorporated King County.
Not so tough when we share the responsibility. Imagine each city assuming its fair share –with money or with land — and committing to move fast.
I recommend we have a friendly design competition to design and construct decent housing at a reasonable cost countywide. Something like Quixote Village could work in some locations. Or build dormitory-like structures where people can live independently and share bathrooms and kitchens like we did when we were in college. Or encourage new roommate situations, mother-in-law apartments and fast track permits for approved auxillary dwelling unit designs. Or go whole-hog and invite our local designers to create homes using recycled materials or fancy up some shipping containers.
We are on the cusp of urban greatness in Seattle and King County. We can use our talents to house 1000 more people who are in our midst right now who need a hand up. Way better than leaving people on the street or under a bridge in a soggy tent.
Dow? Ed? Will you work with me on this?
Seattle City Councilmember