Boom time in Seattle

We may not need an earthquake to get a feel for The Big One. A sampling of 2017 news articles (and accompanying data) suggests that the Emerald City is growing at such a breakneck pace that we can barely track it. And local residents, especially those with limited means, are increasingly unable to find affordable housing in this boom town. Some examples from local media:

According to Seattle Times’ FYI Guy, Gene Balk on May 25th:  From the middle of 2015 to the middle of 2016, Seattle’s population grew 3.1% — faster than any major U.S. city (defined as those with population greater than half a million).  At an estimated 704,400, Seattle is now bigger than Boston, Washington, D.C., and Denver.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, other large, fast-growing cities in King County are Redmond (+3.2% to 62,500), Federal Way (+1.8% to 96,800), Bellevue (+1.3% to 141,400), and Burien (+1.2% to 51,000).  Renton, Auburn, Sammamish, Kent, and Kirkland also grew.

At the same time, according to the Seattle Times on May 30th, “Seattle housing market tops nation in bidding wars and price gains.” Over the past two months, about 90% of houses on the market ended up in bidding wars. And, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service, the April median price for a single family home in Seattle was an all-time high of $722,2500; on the Eastside it was $880,000.

And, despite the expectation that rent increases would slow in 2017 as thousands of new apartments went on the market, a March 27, 2017 Seattle Times headline queried, “After brief slowdown, Seattle-area rents surge back up again; when will it end?”

Finally, on the last day of May, Crosscut announced, “A city the size of Woodinville is sleeping in our streets.” That’s right. When the tally from King County’s annual count of unsheltered homeless was added to the number in shelters on the same night (January 27), the total came to 11,643. about the same as the U.S. Census Bureau‘s 2016 population estimate for Woodinville. A new counting method was used in 2017, so valid comparisons of the 2017 numbers to those of earlier years can’t really be made. But a homeless population the size of Woodinville is substantial, and 77% of those who responded to survey questions said they were living in King County when they became homeless. Not a big surprise in a place where record population growth is paired with skyrocketing prices for housing.

Policymakers, businesses, and philanthropists are working to provide more affordable housing for our growing population — with re-zoning, residential assistance, donations of space, and construction of “tiny houses.” So far, though, it’s been a losing battle.

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