Imagining new, innovative & dignified ways to care for our Chronically unhoused neighbors

Our chronically homeless neighbors deserve dignity, care, and love. Through the Pierce County Village, we are so excited to imagine and implement new and innovative ways to care for and address the unique barriers of our neighbors experiencing chronic homelessness. In doing so, we are shaping a brighter future for our community and for all of Pierce County.

Community Village ModelA Community of Hope for Pierce County

Pierce County leaders are working to establish a planned community of micro homes, work opportunities, and onsite physical and mental health care, patterned after the stunningly successful Community First! Village near Austin, Texas. This new community would address the biggest challenge to homelessness in Pierce County: permanent housing for the chronically homeless. No homeless housing strategy is credible without addressing the chronically homeless. 

Pierce County commissioned an advisory board to make recommendations on the feasibility and merits of the Pierce County Village project. The findings of this advisory board were overwhelmingly positive. Those findings include:

  • This is an ideal location. There are no other properties available as well suited considering many factors including proximity to services, cost, size, or impact on neighbors.
  • The environmental concerns have all been addressed in a way that is beyond the minimum needed environmentally to proceed with the project.
  • The impact of the village development on the environment and land use is significantly less than the impact single-family housing would have, which is what the land is currently zoned for.
  • The operations and capital funding budgets are solid.
  • This is a fantastic opportunity to serve our most chronically homeless, and there are no other barriers from the Mission to serving all people who want help.

To view a project timeline for the Pierce County Village, click here.

To view updated site development plans for the Pierce County village, click here.

Video made by Pierce County

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a community village?

We believe that one of greatest causes of homelessness is a profound, catastrophic loss of family and a healthy community. That’s why housing for individuals experiencing chronic homelessness should do more than just provide a roof and a bed. Our village will develop a community with supportive services and amenities to help address an individual’s relational needs, empower them to build relationships with others, and experience restoration within a broader community.

Why should taxpayers pay for this?

The per unit cost will be about half the cost of typical public housing and most of the revenue needed for the project will come from private donations, not taxpayers. For every homeless person lifted permanently off the streets, there is a significant savings in the costs of law enforcement and medic contacts and emergency room visits.

Who is going to develop and manage this?

The Tacoma Rescue Mission will own and operate the village.

Will you have security at the village?

Yes, the entrance will be controlled. The village will be fenced, a surveillance system will be in place, proactive staff and volunteer residents will engage residents at the individual level, dedicated security staff will monitor the grounds 24/7, and the area outside the community will be monitored as well. The most effective means of ensuring a safe environment will be the pride residents take in their neighborhoods. 

Will there be any restrictions on the residents?

To live in the village, residents will be expected to pay rent, be a good neighbor, and obey the law.

What kind of services will be available for village residents?

Residents will have onsite a) mental health and addiction recovery treatment, b) job training and employment opportunities, c) case management, d) volunteers and staff living alongside residents in each neighborhood to engage formerly homeless residents and build community.

Will the village comply with all applicable county, state and federal land use and environmental law?

Yes, the project must comply with all applicable county, state, federal and environmental laws.

Is this project going to impact the wetlands or wetland boundaries?

There will be no impact to the wetlands. The community will be built completely on non-wetland areas which are completely standard to build upon. All buildings and infrastructure will be on land that is outside of any wetland boundaries.

Won’t the property values near the site be negatively impacted by the village?

We recognize some may be concerned about property values because residents of the village will be formerly homeless. However, residents will choose to live at the village, be given many opportunities for personal transformation, and must comply with the law, pay rent and be good neighbors. With the strong focus on community, and staff engaging residents, we believe it will be as safe as Community First! Village in Austin, the model our village is following. According to the Austin CFV website: “Crime statistics for the three-mile area surrounding Community First! Village show a dramatic contrast to what we experience in our neighborhood.”

Spanaway already has more than its share of problems with homelessness and crime. Isn’t the village going to make things worse?

Persons living on the streets of Spanaway will be prioritized for the first 50 microhomes, so in fact this community should actually make things better and lower the impacts of cost currently associated with the areas homeless population. We all should want individuals experiencing homelessness out of encampments and off the streets and living instead in the structured, accountable, and restorative environment of the village.

Your original proposal indicated the residents would be served by septic, and not a a sewer. Shouldn’t you connect to the sewer to protect wetlands, groundwater, and nearby Spanaway Lake?

We have listened to the community and agree the village will be better served by sewer. We changed the proposal and the entire village will be connected to the nearby sewer line.

Aren’t you going to just isolate the formerly homeless living there? Won’t they be unable to get the help they need?

The village is near busy Pacific Ave and will be served by a shuttle van to take residents to services and to the nearby Pierce Transit bus stop and transit center a few minutes away. A behavioral health and primary care clinic for those insured by Medicaid is less than 5 minutes from the village, and shopping is less than 10 minutes from the village.

Will you admit those with a criminal background?

Potential resident applications will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis taking into account last known address, duration of time spent homeless, disability, veteran status, and criminal record. For those with a criminal background, the review team will consider multiple factors, including nature of crimes committed, rehabilitation efforts, engagement with therapeutic resources, etc. We are deeply committed to the safety and security of the community within and surrounding the village. The application review team will include a member with extensive law enforcement experience to advise the process.

How can you put that much residential density on roughly 21 acres? Aren’t you violating land use laws?

The County’s residential density provisions allow the number of contemplated microhomes and will not violate zoning laws.

How many people will you house?

The first phase contemplates 150 formerly homeless residents, and 21 volunteer residents. The second phase will house approximately 100 formerly homeless and 7 volunteer residents. Volunteer residents are not formerly homeless individuals but those who agree to live alongside, engage, and help build community with formerly homeless residents.

Why are you building free housing for homeless people?

The housing will not be free to residents. All are expected to pay rent and can work onsite to earn a dignified wage to help with the cost of rent.

How big is the village? How much land is it going to use?

The village will take several years to complete and likely a minimum of 6 years to reach full residential capacity. We plan by year six, 250 formerly homeless residents and 28 staff and volunteer residents to help build community. We will use approximately 27 of the 85 acres.

Why doesn’t the County build the village on the vacant K-Mart site on Pacific highway in Spanaway instead of the current proposed site?

To build sufficient microhomes, operate onsite services and employment opportunities, and provide a secure and safe environment, we will need at least 20 acres. The K-Mart is approximately 11.7 acres and so cannot accommodate the necessary services.

What will this do to traffic in the area? Where will everyone who works or lives there park?

Parking will be provided onsite for residents and staff based on existing county code parking requirements. A traffic study has been completed and is being submitted with the Conditional Use Permit to the county. The plan included mitigation steps to help with traffic and speed on Spanaway loop road.

This site is close to JBLM and is in a very loud area, which doesn’t seem therapeutic for recovery. Why was this place chosen over the other options?

We have met with JBLM representatives and they concluded, as do we, that the site is not within the McChord take off and landing flight areas, is outside of the airport clear zone, and does not produce levels of noise which might negatively impact residents. The residential area of the site is far removed from busy Spanaway Loop Rd and quiet and relaxing. We have also sought perspective on this from professional therapists who deal with homelessness and trauma and they have advised that this property is a very good and peaceful therapeutic location.

I heard that the Pierce County Village Project has already gone through a SEPA process and the County’s SEPA official issued a Determination of Nonsignifance (DNR) for the project. Is that true?

No that is not correct. The DNR some may be referring to was in connection with a proposed code change that would permit shared housing villages in areas zoned Residential Resource. The DNR does not pertain to the proposed PC Village project itself. When the project permit application is filed later this year, SEPA review will be triggered, which includes reports and studies regarding whether the project is DNR or an Environmental Impact Statement should be required.

Here is a more detailed explanation about SEPA and the proposed code change from the County’s Planning Department:

Overall, SEPA rules are defined by state law and Ecology’s administrative rules. Unless exempt, both non-project such as development regulation amendments and projects are required to conduct a SEPA review and issue a determination. The review of materials and determination is made by a Lead Agency and SEPA Responsible Official who are responsible for compliance with procedural requirements. It is common across the state that cities and counties are the lead agency within their jurisdiction and designate a responsible official for non-project and project types. Any modification to proposed actions are subject to additional SEPA review.

The code amendment to Shared Housing Villages is considered a non-project SEPA action. For project applications such as a Shared Housing Village at a particular site, at the time of application submittal project-level SEPA review and determination would be triggered.

For the code amendment that was before the Planning Commission, the County’s Responsible SEPA Official issued a Determination of Nonsignificance (DNS) for the non-project action. This DNS was issued on December 6, 2022 and had an associated comment period. At the January 10, 2023 Planning Commission deliberation, they recommended modification to the proposal to expand the shared housing village use to all RR zones within Pierce County, not just the Spanaway-Parkland RR zones.   This modification would have triggered additional review by the SEPA Responsible Official. However, the Pierce County Council did not vote to expand to all RR zones within the County, so additional review for this non-project SEPA Action was not required. For more information on the code amendment, please visit this website: Residential Use Code Updates

A Successful ModelCommunity First! Village, Austin, Texas

Established in 2015 in Austin, TX, Community First Village (CFV) is a meticulously planned residential community with a primary mission of instilling hope, dignity, and purpose in individuals facing chronic homelessness. It achieves this through a combination of meaningful employment opportunities, restorative relationships, and a thriving communal environment. Inhabitants of CFV reside in well-designed microhomes, benefit from on-site addiction and mental health support services, and earn a fair wage by participating in various on-site microenterprises.

At its core, CFV asserts that homelessness is a human predicament necessitating a compassionate human response. The community is further enhanced by staff and volunteers living alongside formerly homeless residents to foster a stronger sense of belonging and community. Residents also contribute by paying rent and committing to being good neighbors.

“A production of Freethink and Mobile Loaves & Fishes partner Stand Together, “Finding Home” provides a close-up look at the innovative Community First! Village, a one-of-a-kind development in Austin, Texas that is designed specifically for men and women coming out of chronic homelessness.”

Read about Community First! Village in the New York Times