Seattle: The Housing Crisis Continues

real estate  /   /  By Nick Kljaic

When it comes to Seattle, one can say this is a city of neighborhoods. Each district is distinct, providing a special flair that contributes to the beauty of this sea-faring city. Originally built to accommodate an expansive fishing trade, today Seattle is a hub of industry. From Boeing to Internet start-ups, Seattle has seen impressive growth. Thus, this city is also quickly become one of the most expensive cities to live in. Rents here have skyrocketed, leaving most renters to wonder how they will continue to afford to live in this amazing metro.

So what is driving the Seattle rents to these heights? Quite simply, the old adage of demand versus supply. The city itself is limited in its square footage, as it is bound by mountains on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. Thus, land for construction projects is in short supply. Building costs have also increased, as demand for new residences continues.

The in-flux migration means that demand is not slowing down. While older buildings might not command the same high rents as new construction, many landlords are not willing to sign long-term leases. By keeping leases short, landlords have more opportunities to increase the rent. Families often struggle the most, as they are looking for larger space in a tight inventory market. Studios and small one-bedrooms are common floor plans, particularly in newer high rise complexes.

How is Seattle working to combat the high rents?

One way is with smaller rental spaces. Since the weather in area is fairly mild throughout the year, landlords are creating smaller studio spaces and encouraging their tenants to explore the neighborhood. Complexes are providing more common areas to allow renters to mingle and socialize. Other complexes are combining work and living spaces into studios, allowing workers to save rent by one paying for one space instead of two.

The city council is also working on measures to bring the rents down or at least maintain some affordability. One measure is a form of rent control, meant to maintain some affordable options within the city limits of Seattle. Still, members of the council acknowledge that rent control is just one part of the solution. “The debate is not about rent control being the (only) solution,” said council member Nick Licata, who advocates for a more comprehensive solution to the issue of affordability.

Rent control has been attempted before in San Francisco, which also struggles with providing affordable housing options. Although various measures have been revamped and extended, San Francisco still has rents for one bedroom apartments above $3,500. Members of the Seattle government want to avoid that type of scenario, but are struggling to find effective means to bring rents to a manageable level that would keep neighborhoods vibrant.

In September 2015, Mayor Ed Murray announced a plan meant to create more affordable housing for Seattle. His plan includes an expansion of the city’s affordable housing tax-exemption program. “We must ensure that there are affordable homes for people looking to raise families in walkable, mixed-income neighborhoods near transit and job centers,” Murray said. His goal would be to add 50,000 new units to Seattle’s housing inventory, with 20,000 of those units being considered affordable. With the influx of new residents, these units would be welcome. Still, there are those that consider this plan flawed, in part because it addresses future but not current needs.

When looking at the housing crisis in Seattle, it is easy to see how economic growth can quickly create a war on affordable housing.

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