Tensions continues to rise at Nickelsville.
On Wednesday, the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), a nonprofit organization that contracts with the City of Seattle to manage several tiny home villages, issued a press release about severing their relationships with Nickelsville's three city-funded tiny home villages.
The conflict between LIHI and Nickelsville isn't new. Nickelsville, which was established in 2006 as a self-governing community for people experiencing homelessness, gets over a million dollars in city funding annually. That money is controlled and distributed through LIHI, which has certain requirements that Nickelsville management, according to LIHI Executive Director Sharon Lee, refuses to comply with. In a phone interview, Lee said she particularly takes issue with Nickelsville's habit of permanently banning some residents.
In particular, Lee blames Scott Morrow, a Nickelsville organizer. "He's been barring people [from tiny home villages] for arbitrary, unjust, and discriminatory reasons," Lee told me. "There is no reason to make more people homeless." One of the permanent bans Lee cites was a man who was banned after, according to her, double-parking his vehicle. According to a statement from Nickelsville management, however, the double-parker in question was hostile, threatening, refused to abide by rules, and had the police called on him more than once.
This conflict between LIHI and Nickelsville came to a head last week, when Nickelsville security locked LIHI representatives out. According to a resident at the Georgetown site, Morrow has demanded that security keep the gate locked 24/7, which means that residents also have to be let in and out. They are letting in LIHI case managers, but no one else from the organization is permitted to enter. (The Fire Department was called and determined this was not a safety concern.)
Still, the situation is concerning to some Nickelsville residents, who have been told, according to Lee, that LIHI is trying to evict them. "We want to impress upon residents that they are not being asked to leave," Lee said. "They are fearful that under LIHI management, they are going to be forced to leave. That's not the case at all."
A Georgetown resident affirmed this, and also said that Morrow has created an atmosphere of fear. Residents, he says, are scared to cross him.
Scott Morrow did not return a request for comment, but Peggy Hotes, a longtime advocate for the homeless and a Nickelsville founder, told me that Lee “isn’t being honest” about what’s happening. “No one is kicking people out,” she says.
Lee says that the City and LIHI have asked for a meeting with Nickelsville management. "The city sent Nickelsville legal documents showing the LIHI is in charge and it's up to LIHI for who we want to subcontract to. From LIHI's perspective, we want LIHI staff to continue to support residents and make sure there are many more people accessing housing and longterm services."
Hotes says that on Wednesday, Nickelsville voted to reject a meeting with LIHI. They are, however, open to meeting with the City, and, if LIHI provides Nicklesville with a detailed expense report, LIHI. “We have asked for years for a copy of the expense reports,” Hotes says. We've managed to get budgets but they won't tell us what they are spending money on. Othello is costing over half a million dollars a year and we've never seen where the money is going. It should not cost half a million dollars a year.”
At this point, LIHI has stopped funding three staff positions for Nickelsville and plan to take over operational responsibilities for the Othello, Georgetown, and Northlake tiny home villages. Of course, they’ll have to get in first, and as of today, Nickelsville has no plans to unlock the gates.