State Senate Republicans aim to ease restrictions on tiny house villages to help homeless

Tiny homes in Olympia (KOMO Photo)

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- State Senate Republicans say homelessness has reached crisis stage and they want to do all they can to help fight it. Even though they are the minority party, they hope Senate Democrats will embrace some of their ideas.

One of them deals with easing restrictions on tiny house villages. Seattle has several that operate like homeless shelters. Olympia has Quixote Village where people pay a portion of their income for the privilege to live in a 144 square-foot home.

"It's a little messy. Sorry," said Thor Easley taking us on a tour of his tiny home, one of 30 on property in the industrial area of West Olympia. "We do have a bathroom." The people living there all share a common club house with kitchen and showers.

"it is a mansion compared to living on the streets," Easley said. That is where he was for eight years much like the people still living there. People such as Bianca Dunmire who showed us her setup in the middle of a tent encampment in downtown Olympia. "I've got my bed, I've got a little table set up. I've got just a bunch of junk after that."

"I don't have an income that affords me to be able to get an apartment or anything close to it," she said. She was told about the tiny houses at Quixote Village. "That would be perfect for me," said Dunmire. "I would love to get out of here and go live in a tiny home. That would be a dream come true."

But the 30 units are full and there's a long waiting list, which is why State Senate Republicans want to pass bills to ease the restrictions on tiny house villages around the state.

"Tiny houses certainly are not 'the only' solution to our affordable housing problem in this state," said Sen. Hans Zeiger (R-Puyallup). "But they are a part of what we need to be doing." Zeiger also wants to ease restrictions on having tiny houses in back yards.

Easley has been here five years paying 1/3 of his income for the privilege. He calls the place a life-saver.

"Without this place, it would never have happened," Easley said. "I'd probably be dead by now."

"It's not just homelessness. Senate Republicans are also talking about lower property taxes for seniors and the disabled by taking out the school portion and paying for it with Internet sales taxes.

"I think it's time we all recognize it's time to say 'thank you' to the seniors, 'thank you' to the disabled veterans and 'thank you' to the disabled population," said Sen. Randi Becker (R-Eatonville).

Democrats in the House say they too want property tax relief, but Rep. Nicole Macri (D-Seattle) said, "I don't think trading out one tax that disproportionately impacts lower income people with another one that also negatively impacts low income people will provide the kind of relief people on fixed incomes say they need. Many seniors are feeling the burden of increased cost of living, and sales tax is one contributing factor to that."

Macri continued, "I support a capital gains tax which would ensure the wealthiest Washingtonians also contribute to the things that help all our communities thrive like high performing schools and access to affordable housing and healthcare."

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