The City of Seattle’s Human Services Department (HSD) will not renew the contract for the Northlake Village in 2020 due to compliance and performance concerns. The City contracts with the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) to operate the village on Seattle City Light property. LIHI has not been able to operate the village as specified in their contract throughout 2019 due to ongoing interference in camp operations and client services from its former subcontractor, Nickelsville, which has prevented LIHI staff from effectively engaging residents of the village.
The safety and long-term well-being of residents remains the City’s priority. As with other program closures, the City is working closely with LIHI to find new shelter or housing resources for all interested program participants at Northlake Village. There will be no net loss of shelter capacity with Northlake’s closure, with new shelter space at existing villages and other shelter resources offsetting the loss of Northlakes’s 19 beds.
The village will no longer operate after December 31, 2019, and the property will be returned to Seattle City Light.
The goal of Northlake Village, like all City funded village programs, is to provide safe, 24/7 shelter that offers supportive services and case management to help formerly unsheltered people find permanent housing.
Northlake Village opened on City Light property in the spring of 2018, providing shelter through 19 tiny houses. Previously operated as a sanctioned tent encampment in Ballard, LIHI continued onsite management for the Northlake program through a subcontracted arrangement with the Nickelsville.
In the spring of 2019, LIHI notified HSD that its partnership with Nickelsville was dissolved due to the inability to execute a mutually agreed upon Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). At that time, LIHI requested Nickelsville to relinquish control and allow LIHI to resume site management at the Northlake property. To date, people who identify as Nickelsville staff and supporters refuse to recognize LIHI as the contracted operator of the program and have actively blocked LIHI’s ability to meet its contractual obligations of moving people on to permanent housing.
HSD and LIHI staff have observed concerning behavior throughout the 2019 contract year at Northlake Village. Residents associated with the former subcontractor, Nickelsville, have harassed LIHI and City staff, tightly controlled site access although no longer recognized as the subcontractor, and have actively interfered in LIHI’s ability to meet the contracted objectives of the program.
The following specific concerns were observed and documented by LIHI and HSD staff:
- Restricted access to site, including padlocking the village gate and refusing entry to LIHI and HSD staff;
- LIHI case managers prevented from engaging participants in programs designed to access housing;
- Practice of arbitrarily barring individuals from the village for minor infractions that include not participating in political activities;
- Noncompliance in reporting vacancies to HSD; and
- Blocking LIHI staff from completing standard program procedures including intake documentation and an inconsistent enrollment in the Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS).
Low Program Performance
In 2018 and 2019, Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Council made key investments to help villages become more effective in moving people into permanent housing. HSD increased critical on-site resources and contracted with LIHI to operate the entirety of the village program. Through these investments and key partnerships, the village program has seen a 37% exit rate of moving individuals in a village household to permanent housing in the first six months of 2019, which is 17% higher when compared to the same time in 2018. While most villages saw strong improvement, Northlake Village lags behind with only a 11% exit to permanent housing in the first half of 2019. Additionally, other programs formerly managed by Nickelsville—Georgetown and Othello Villages—saw rates to permanent housing increase by double digits once LIHI assumed case management oversight. These clear results underscore the need for villages to offer full-time case management and housing connections, such as those that LIHI provides.
*Note: True Hope, Whittier, Lake Union, Licton Springs are not included because they were either new programs in 2018 or were ramped down—we don’t have the same windows of time to compare.
In August of 2019, HSD staff monitoring the village operations found the program was not in compliance with the 2019 contract. HSD created a performance improvement plan for LIHI. The plan detailed specific steps to be taken for the program to be in contractual compliance. The plan called for the improvements to be completed by October 7, 2019.
On October 7, 2019 LIHI communicated to HSD they were unable to meet the requirements necessary for the program to come into compliance. On October 29, HSD informed LIHI that it will not extend the contract into 2020 and the village will close at the end of this year. HSD has requested LIHI produce a phase out plan that ensures a safe exit for all program participants well before the end of the 2019 contract period (December 31, 2019).