Pierce County: decide to build a micro-village for the homeless
Pierce County, like most communities, is struggling to resolve its housing crisis. If we were talking about food, we would recognize widespread malnutrition with pockets of starvation. Speaking of housing, we recognize that nearly half of the county’s residents struggle to pay their rent and a notable number of residents are homeless. All of this is costing us all. Roaming is expensive. It uses public services, such as health care. This makes them less effective. It destroys public spaces – parks, sidewalks and storefronts. It ruins the lives of people who experience it.
Pierce County has tackled the crisis, with good results. It’s also time to try something new. To that end, Pierce County Council is considering two related innovative proposals. Both feature in the county’s comprehensive plan to end homelessness that the council adopted in March.
Firstthe council is reviewing the plan it requested from the Pierce County Executive to create a community village of small homes and services as permanent housing for nearly 300 chronically homeless county residents.
The proposal is modeled after an example in Austin, Texas. This model – known in Austin as Community First Village – has been successful in measuring safety, stability, recovery, income growth and community acceptance. It assumes that housing alone will not solve chronic homelessness. He points out that homelessness stems from the “profound and catastrophic loss of family”. In a restorative response, the village offers a permanent housing community and the relationships that make up a community. Residents contribute through the rent they pay and their investments in the community and in their own lives. The village model seems to work because, in its ethos and design, it shows how residents share the work, that they are not alone in this work, and that they matter.
The proposed micro-village development in Pierce County will encounter the usual challenges and risks for real estate development, particularly for affordable housing development. For example, The News Tribune recently reported on some zoning conundrums to solve. The plan must minimize and manage risk, with adequate protections for the county’s investment. These issues should be manageable, especially with great community partners like the Tacoma Rescue Mission. The development must be feasible in the proposed location or another if necessary, especially with what the discussion now needs – the council decides to do so.
Second, Council may soon consider exercising the state option of a 1/10th of 1% sales tax for affordable housing. The city of Tacoma and other counties have already done so. This will create stable income for initiatives such as the proposed micro-village. It will also make the county more competitive for funding from other sources, both public and private.
Pierce County’s tiny home proposal isn’t the only project at play in this discussion. If these usual uncertainties prevail, one should not hope for the success of the next proposal which would present the same type of uncertainties, but without the programmatic and financial advantages of the current proposal.
Defeating the Micro-Welcome Village Project would inflict lingering disheartenment on future plans and the county’s efforts to address its homelessness crisis.
Michael Yoder has served as Executive Director of Associated Ministries since 2015. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation and the PC Human Services Coalition.
Michael Mirra was executive director of the Tacoma Housing Authority from 2004 until his retirement in 2021. Currently, he serves on the Pierce County Comprehensive Plan to End Homelessness Advisory Board.