NARRATOR: At last count, there were more
than 5,000 people living
on the streets of Seattle.
Over the past five years,
from tent encampments
to shelters to rental vouchers,
the city hasn’t figured out
a way to house them all.
And yet, one solution could
be hidden in plain sight.
Vacant, publicly-owned land.
JOHN: The number of
properties, when you saw that,
you were frankly stunned
at how many there were.
NARRATOR: That’s King
County Assessor John Wilson.
In 2015, he commissioned a map
of all government-owned
land in the county.
It includes vacant lots and empty fields.
Some of these properties could be used
to build affordable housing.
Take this parcel off Elliot.
It’s a two-acre parking
lot owned by King County.
It’s close to public
transit, and Wilson believes
it could be repurposed to house
around 150 individuals in modular units.
Or this vacant field on Capitol Hill.
It could be developed to accommodate
a village of tiny homes.
There are bureaucratic hurdles.
Some of these properties aren’t
zoned for residential use,
and state regulations make it difficult
to buy or lease utility-owned land.
But, Wilson says it comes
down to political will.
JOHN: Part of the problem we have
is getting local governments
to think more creatively
about how do we say yes to things
and not just default to no always.
If we truly have a housing crisis,
then why don’t we act like it?