Staying the course

Community First! Village in Austin, Texas

It’s been a while since I’ve written about the Piece County Village project and with the Council currently considering legislation regarding shared housing development regulations next week, I thought this would be a good time to provide you an update.

As you may recall, the Village is based on the Austin-based Community First! Village, a proven and effective model to restore people trapped in chronic homelessness with untreated addiction and mental illness. Just like in Austin, the residents of Pierce County’s Village would get critically needed treatment, work onsite in micro-enterprises and pay rent, all while finding hope again through community.      

On March 21, the County Council approved funding for the Village, passed a related land use development regulation and enabled the County to enter into a public-private partnership with the Tacoma Rescue Mission, which will own and operate the Village. The Mission is a highly regarded long-time shelter provider with more than 100 years of experience in our community helping the most vulnerable among us.      

The Mission purchased an 85-acre site for the Village just off Spanaway Loop Road in May and submitted its application for a conditional use permit per Pierce County code to build 285 tiny homes and support buildings. The permit application provides important environmental protections, including the preservation of more than 55 acres for extensive wetland buffers, a forest and wildlife.  Since then, the Mission also purchased an adjacent three-acre parcel that eliminates the anticipated need to build an access road over a stream on the land and will save the project significant costs. 

We are excited about this early momentum!

But a project of this nature was never going to be without controversy. To no one’s surprise, neighbors near the site and an environmental advocacy group filed appeals with the Growth Management Hearings Board to challenge the development regulation. Such challenges are not unusual and we plan on staying the course and defending the regulation.

Counties are required under new state laws to plan for and accommodate a variety of housing types and remove regulations that can result in disparate impacts in housing. You’ve heard me say many times we need both more and more types of housing in Pierce County. That innovation in housing is so important — rooming houses, congregate housing, group homes and shared housing villages are all needed tools for the housing tool box.

There is an offer to withdraw the appeals if the Council repeals the development regulations that they had previously approved.  As a result, the Council will consider an ordinance to repeal the regulation next Tuesday (Proposal 2023-24).

Along with many in our community, I am concerned that a repeal by the Council would be interpreted as a rejection of our shared goal of providing innovative housing solutions, such as the Village, for low-income and formerly homeless individuals who need and want a fresh start. The Mission has indicated that the media coverage of the proposed repeal is already undermining their efforts to raise funds for the Village. I’m disappointed that a valued Pierce County partner finds their organization in this unfortunate situation.      

I am heartened when I remember that the Community First! Village in Austin encountered similar challenges, but later came to be enthusiastically embraced by the Austin-area community. It now has the funding, land, and community support to build 1400 additional tiny homes at two separate locations.  I know Pierce County has that same compassion and goodwill for innovative and proven models to solve homelessness, especially ones that offer a path to hope, dignity and restored purpose.

I am committed to continuing to support the Village, the Tacoma Rescue Mission, and the cooperation needed to create additional bold solutions that move us closer to ending homelessness in Pierce County. 

Thanks for reading,