Big win for the roughly 5,000 unsheltered homeless people on Seattle streets!
Big win for the roughly 5,000 unsheltered homeless people on Seattle streets! Phil Augustavo

The Seattle City Council voted today to allow more transitional encampments for homeless people living in tiny homes, tent cities, in cars, and more in Seattle. The ordinance approved today—which replaces and updates an ordinance that expires at the end of March—will allow for 40 transitional encampments. The current ordinance only allows for three.

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It passed 6 to 1. Councilmember Alex Pedersen was the one no-vote. His two amendments and one substitute bill, which Councilmember Kshama Sawant described as a "slight of hand" and "a no-vote disguised as a substitute," failed.

The ordinance was sponsored by Sawant. Though it has been referred to as a "tiny home" bill it encompasses all types of encampments and will make it easier to site tent cities, tiny homes, and vehicle safe lots in the city. Under the ordinance, they can stay on any property controlled by a religious organization without needing a permit and with a permit on any public or private land in Seattle. The idea is that these encampments will eventually pave the way for more tiny house villages. Several tiny house villages started as unsanctioned tent encampments and evolved into the villages they are today.

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"They are decidedly the most humane, most respectful, and dignity-offering," Sawant said of tiny house villages, "and have one of the best track records in helping people find supportive housing." According to the Seattle Times, "tiny houses have seen higher rates of people leaving for permanent housing than other emergency shelters."

While the ordinance is simply a land-use bill and the framework to a subsequential permitting process, there were nine amendments added by council members. For the most part, the amendments aimed at changing the nature of the bill—like one by Pedersen that required encampments have structures (therefore discounting tents) or the one by Pedersen that reinstated the sunset of the ordinance in 2023—failed. Sawant described the version that passed as "strong."

This is only the first step, however. The ordinance will still need to find funding, a fight that will be carried out during the budgeting season this fall.