City Hall

Council Makes it Easier for Churches to Host Tent Cities

By Erica C. Barnett October 3, 2011

The city council just unanimously adopted legislation giving churches and other religious institutions more freedom to host homeless encampments like Tent City. The legislation, which replaces an expiring consent decree allowing churches, nonprofits, and private landowners to host tent cities, exempts churches from permitting fees while imposing a long list of new health and safety standards on encampments.

The new law does not, as opponents like encampment organizer SHARE/WHEEL have claimed (a claim the Seattle Times initially parroted), make it harder for private landowners to host encampments. In fact, it actually allows more private encampments than are allowed under current law.

What it doesn't do is allow secular landowners the same automatic right to host encampments. That, as legislation sponsor Nick Licata pointed out this afternoon, would require a change to the city's comprehensive plan---and changes to the comp plan can only be made once a year, in March.

"There has been a suggestion to change the temporary use process; however, that is separate matter than what this legislation is about," Licata said. "This bill is not designed to address" changes that would be required to exempt secular landowners from paying permit fees to host encampments.

At this morning's budget briefing, Department of Planning and Development director Diane Sugimura told council members that the city has customarily waived almost all fees for religious institutions that want to host tent cities. She said not one secular landowner had asked the city to waive its permit fees.
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