This Village Of Tiny Houses Is Giving Seattle’s Homeless A Place To Live

The best way to stop homelessness is to give them housing. In a city with limited space, you have to get creative.

A plot of land that used to hold a single-family house on an average street in Seattle now hosts 14 tiny homes for homeless people.


“There is a homelessness crisis here, so this helps serve more people immediately,” says Aaron Long, communication specialist for the Low Income Housing Institute, a nonprofit that will help run the tiny house village along with two other partners.

Because we now know that giving homeless people a free home is an effective tactic for eliminating homelessness, and is cheaper than caring for them on the street, the nonprofit also builds apartment complexes for the homeless , along with homes for low-income Seattleites. But with around 10,000 homeless people in King County–and nearly 4,000 of those living outside shelters–there isn’t enough money to build apartments for all.

Kathryn Barnard

“The best thing for everyone would be enough affordable housing and even free housing for homeless people, so that there didn’t need to be encampments and tiny house villages,” Long says. “However, the political will and funding for that is just not there.”

A tiny house, on the other hand, can be built and installed for a little over $2,000.

The idea for tiny houses arose after the Low Income Housing Institute started working with a large tent city in Seattle called Nickelsville in 2013, when the encampment was forced to move off city land (city law later changed to allow new camps). The nonprofit quickly realized how harsh life in a tent can be, especially in cold Seattle winters, and helped build some simple shacks. Then they decided to start designing tiny homes–a step up from a shack–and reached out to local schools and carpentry training programs to help.

The largest of the tiny houses, designed for a small family, was designed by students at Sawhorse Revolution, a nonprofit that works with teenagers on design-build programs. “Being able to know that I’m helping give a sense of security and safety to people that clearly deserve it more than most people is the most fulfilling thing that Sawhorse has offered to me,” says 16-year-old Audrey Tapang, who helped design the house.


Everyone living in the tiny houses will get help with services like basic food, school, and finding another home. “The goal is to have the case managers help the residents of the tiny house villages find permanent housing, so no one’s staying there too long,” says Long.

Kathryn Barnard

Of course, 14 houses is only a tiny amount of the housing needed. It’s hard to find land; the new village was built on church-owned property. Another even smaller group of tiny houses opened in another neighborhood last year. But the nonprofit hopes the new project will help build support for more. At the next location, they plan to build 100 tiny homes.

“I feel like the more media attention it gets, the less NIMBYism there will be,” says Long. “Once the villages are up and running, people find out that the structure of having a village is organized and is managed and those encampments turn out to be pretty good neighbors … better than unregulated encampments where people are just pitching their tents below freeways. It’s really better for everyone.”

The fact that people tend to love tiny houses also helps. “One nice thing about the tiny house village is that they’re super cute,” he says. “They often get painted colorfully, and they just look better than the tent encampments. From a PR perspective, they’re just kind of attractive and popular. People look at it and think ‘Yeah, why can’t a person live in a tiny house?’ It doesn’t seem like it would be so bad to build thousands of them.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.