Tiny house village in Olympia to serve as template for two more sites

The organizing force behind the innovative Quixote Village homeless community in Olympia is expanding the concept to serve homeless veterans in Pierce and Mason counties.

Located on a 2.17-acre campus in an industrial area on the city’s west side, Quixote Village includes 30 free-standing cottages for chronically homeless adults who agree to sober living.

Each single-room cottage measures 144 square feet and includes a bed, half-bathroom, closet, front porch, heating and electricity. A community center contains a kitchen, showers, mailboxes and a laundry room, as well as access to social services related to mental health, addiction treatment or employment.

Quixote Village on Mottman Road grew out a nomadic self-governing tent city for the homeless that formed in 2007. The cottages opened in December 2013 and have attracted international attention as a template for helping the homeless. The nonprofit organization Panza led the effort to build the village at a cost of about $3.1 million and now serves as landlord.

Panza is now working to replicate Quixote Village at two more locations in the Puget Sound region.

One of those sites is the Washington Soldiers Home and Colony in Orting, in eastern Pierce County. The project is still in the early planning stages and depends on an upcoming application for assistance with the Washington State Housing Trust Fund. In a best-case scenario, construction could begin in 2018, and the village could open later that year, said Panza board member Jill Severn.

The estimated cost for the Orting village would be about $3.8 million, Severn said, noting that it would include six units that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A key partner in the Orting project is the Puget Sound Veterans Hope Center, which would help place residents at the village.

Larry Geringer, president of the center, praised the Orting village’s potential for helping veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or other ailments. In addition to living in a more tranquil environment than a city, the veterans would benefit from living among other veterans, he said.

“They strengthen each other, they help each other,” said Geringer, who served 26 years in the Air Force. “Veterans have a common bond and experience, and it doesn’t matter what branch they served in.”

Geringer also serves on the board for the Tacoma Rescue Mission, which reserves 10 beds every night for homeless veterans. The waiting list for those beds is 12 people deep, and Geringer averages nearly 350 visits a year from veterans who need stability in their lives.

“I don’t think that it’s really enough,” Geringer said of the proposed project’s size, “but we have to take what we can get.”

Another replica of Quixote Village has been proposed for Shelton.

Tom Davis, a volunteer veteran mentor coordinator for Mason County, said the search is underway for a site, and more information should be available in the next few weeks. A timeline for construction is unclear.

Davis said up to 10 percent of Mason County’s jail population consists of veterans, many of whom encounter trouble with the law amid the struggle to transition from military to civilian life. Housing can bring stability for veterans who are trying to get their lives on track, Davis said, noting that the proposed Shelton village should incorporate military values.

“If you’re a veteran, you can relate to other veterans because you both have that life-defining experience of serving your country,” said Davis, who served in the Navy from 1964-67. “This village would be essential to putting our veterans back on the right track before they become like my era’s veterans and carrying their baggage 50 years down the road.”

Panza board members will lobby the Legislature this session to create a Housing Innovation Fund worth $18 million.

If it comes to fruition, the fund could help finance low-income housing proposals statewide. Priority would ideally go to projects that cost at least half of the average cost of subsidized housing.

As an example, Panza reports that Quixote Village cost about $100,000 per unit when factoring in construction and donated land — about 40 percent cheaper than the cost to build conventional state-funded studio apartments.

“The idea is to create this pot of money,” Severn said of the proposal and the effort to solve a growing problem that needs a solution. “There’s a lot of national energy right now around housing veterans.”

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869, @andyhobbs