Comments

1
IIRC, 70K people emigrated to Seattle last year. 11K new apartments is still inadequate. keep throwing them up.
2
After a decade plus of hearing that promise I'm not holding my breath.
3
@1, evidence please that 70K people emigrated (immigrated, actually…) to Seattle last year.
4
Thank you for pointing out that no matter how you slice it, supply is going to be an essential component to keeping housing affordable. That is not to say supply alone is the silver bullet - high, middle, and low income housing units do not mix in the same neighborhoods without government insisting on it and some cap on how much rent can be increased on an annual basis is necessary. But ultimately more and more people are moving to Seattle and in that circumstance you have three options:
1) Keep the stock of housing constrained and let rents skyrocket (like San Francisco)
2) Build outwards / sprawl (like Atlanta and other cities in the deep south)
3) Build inwards and upwards (like Seattle and Portland)
Ultimately #3 is the best option. In fact, had Seattle not allowed 85% of residential land be zoned for single family dwellings and taken steps to ensure that as the city grew the urban core would expand with high density housing we might be the only city in the pacific NW with an urban core large and vibrant enough to be a model city with subways and such a good layout that owning a car would largely be a hindrance rather than a necessity for the majority of the population.
6
I'm continuously amazed by how many people who choose to live in a big city then turn around and resist the city growing or changing.

In principal I'm all for rent control, but in practice (see NYC) it creates too many perverse incentives and opportunities to game the system by both landlords and tenants.

I think the real answer is in dramatically increasing housing stock. This means relaxing zoning rules, even when it (gasp) "changes the character of the neighborhood." It means forcing builders of luxury apartments to either subsidize rents to middle and low income renters for a few decades, or to build modest apartments in the same building.
7
I wonder which part of San Francisco she visited. Seems there is a new housing project on every other corner, both large and small.

I also think the proposed housing construction moratorium in the Mission is grandly stupid. You don't get more affordable housing by halting new construction.
8
@ 5 - Probably a little of column A, a little of column B. Regardless, I've never heard a cogent theory from anyone of how you moderate rents in a desirable city like Seattle without increasing housing supply. Rent control helps incumbents willing to stay in their apartments forever, but hurts supply (and thus, raises rents) for everyone else.
9
@6, some type of cap ought to be managable - e.g. 2X the rate of inflation with an absolute maximum of rate of inflation + 4% so that people paying rent for $1,000 a month don't find their rent rising 20%-50% in a single year.
10
You don't get more affordable housing -- affordable to middle- and low-income renters -- by building only market-rate housing. Despite the theory that rent prices will go down as supply increases (the Valdez Theory), and this new theory proposing that rents will go down as market-rate housing essentially deteriorates, we need rental housing NOW for non-Amazon executives, and that's not being produced. The non-profit builders depend on some sort of governmental money (national or state housing trust fund) to get those units on-line; that's running out. Thus we have part shining-city-on-a-hill Seattle and part people-living-in-cars Seattle.
11
Seattle is not doing right, it is just that San Fransisco is doing it worse. Most of the land here could be developed and doing so would preserve more of the existing character of the city. Right now most of the homes that are being torn down are being replaced by bigger homes. At the same time, we have created very tiny islands where apartment development is allowed. This means that big old houses are being replaced by apartments, instead of being converted to apartments. It is a lot more expensive, but since that is the only place where apartments are allowed, it is what happens. You don't see too many old houses or empty lots being replaced by apartments because it isn't allowed on most empty lots or old houses. There are hundreds of very big houses in Seattle that could easily and cheaply be converted to small apartments (duplexes, triplexes, etc.) but that isn't allowed. Even a little backyard cottage or mother in law apartment is extremely expensive because of ridiculous regulations (mandating set backs and parking).
13
@3: I meant whatever the term is when people move from one place to another within a country. not immigration. let me rephrase: 70,000 people moved here last year.
14
@11 -- "...we have created very tiny islands where apartment development is allowed." You really ought to get out more. Those "islands" -- downtown, Belltown, South Lake Union, Eastlake, Westlake, Capitol Hill, University District, etc., etc., etc. are not tiny! The private sector is building housing at an unprecedented rate; developers are having no problem finding sites to build on.
15
@13, but Max, Seattle's population did not increase by 70,000 in 2015. You are just inventing numbers, or perhaps mis-applying Puget Sound regional growth numbers all to the city of Seattle.
16
@10: Why does affordable housing need to be built? Why not build market-rate housing to meet the demand at that price point, in turn reducing demand (and prices) for existing housing stock? Obviously people of all incomes need and deserve housing, but do they all need and deserve new housing?
17
I'm really bothered that virtually all of the new housing is 2 bedroom or less. Is this the city's way of solving the schools problem - just drive families out? What's going to happen when all these young professionals start to pair off and have kids, and discover the city has no place for people with more than one kid?

If we keep tearing down housing stock for families and replacing it with apartments for singles & couples, we'll have a city that has to turn over its population regularly to keep afloat.
18
Great point.

And why aren't cities hiring low end developers and building apartments themselves using tax money for moderate income residents to rent? Cities do it all the time to build schools, libraries, tunnels, bridges... housing projects failed because they were dumping grounds for people with no hope and no jobs, not because publicly tax-funded construction is inherently bad.

Hard costs (land+labor+materials) on urban construction run $300 to $500 a square foot in faraway neighborhoods and max out at $1500 a square foot even in mid-town Manhattan, a fraction of selling price. Time to socialize apartment construction for the middle class, and leave developers to fight for the 1%.
19
@17 Unfortunately we have a large volume of existing housing stock that's designed for families (SF homes), so it's tough to make the dollars work to add more family homes (multi-room apartments/conods).

The good news is that our average household size is 2, yet 50% of our housing stock is SF homes. That likely means that most of those SF homes have singles or couples - there's your family housing right there. Many of those singles or couples would be happy in a condo or apartment, but they're just not as good of a deal as a house. Why? Because we have a comparative glut of houses. Build more apartments or condos of any type, and you'll lure a lot of these SF homeowners into them as prices become more reasonable.
20
@6 "I'm continuously amazed by how many people who choose to live in a big city then turn around and resist the city growing or changing."

You are continuously amazed that someone moves some place because they like it and they are unhappy when greedy developer cretins start wrecking everything they like about it? This is amazing?

The whole blather about SF and density is frankly a crock of shit. That city is already one of the densest populated cities in the country. I'm wondering, the developer shills, they want to hold forth about some cherry picked project where NIMBYs are resisting filling in a parking lot. Are they for bulldozing whole historic neighborhoods in SF in the name of density? If not, well I'd say why not? Density at all costs! You know it is sure to work because once you turn your city into some facsimile of Bellevue and then all the shitty pasteboard buildings start falling down in ten years, no one will want to live there any more. Rents will go down then, you are correct.
21
22,000 net population change from 2014-2015 (WA OFM)
11,000 new units in 2016 (PSBJ via Dan Savage)

That seems like the market is responding appropriately and is not seriously hindered by regulation.

Although there are other stats that suggest otherwise,e.g., Bhatt's Region at a Crossroads piece in the Times
22
I love the changes to Seattle. Love them.
23
From http://www.seattle.gov/DPD/cityplanning/… and http://www.seattle.gov/economicdevelopme…, we can see that while we added 56,503 jobs in the city from 2010-2012, we've only added 4,337 housing units during that same time frame. That's displacement right there - that's how stark our housing shortage is.

I don't care about your fee-fees, as Dan would say. I don't care that tall buildings make you feel insignificant, or that new buildings replacing old buildings make you feel like you're aging. I care about the carbon generated by those who are forced to live in car-scarred suburbs; those who are displaced from services they need. Suck up your feelings and stop restricting development that would happen if the government would allow them.
24
@17, one way to get more 3 Bedroom development would be to allow rowhouses in all single-family zoning. The NIMBYs managed to scream loud enough about this sensible recommendation in HALA, and Murray, Burgess, et al, agreed to kill it. Thankfully, there's still some 3+BR incentives in HALA that have a chance of doing some good, although not as much as I'd like.
25
Yeah, I don't think much is cooling down in the Seattle housing market. One new condo project in Ballard is about to open in a few months. From what I hear, some 110 of the 120 units are already sold (nearly selling out of inventory before opening of a project is kinda crazy how profitable the development is). They're selling them between $270k & $700k+ each. There's even one person who's buying two separate but adjacent condos, so they can have a place to stay when they visit the city, and a spare unit to use for their guests.

Let that sink in: people are buying condos in Ballard as vacation homes - and buying additional condos as vacation homes for their friends . . .
26
@16 why not?! Because in the real work the market isn't so cut and dry. For instance there will always be people who would rather live in existing stock, and many will pay market rates to live there.

Housing at all levels of affordability needs to be built so people of all income levels have a place to live right now, not in ten years, or whenever amount of time needs to pass for the rental rates of existing stock to come down in your ivory tower scenario.
27
@15: yes, that is what I'm doing. regional growth numbers. we still need more housing.
28
Max, the numbers are 22,000 net population change in 2015 and 11,000 new units in 2016. Seems like the market is responding reasonably to growth.
29
ragold, plenty of the people moving to the region would love to be in Seattle, if there was room for them. A friend of mine recently moved here on an educator's salary; she badly wanted to live in Seattle, and she probably could have afforded a studio but for the dog. She bought a house in Lynnwood. Hates cars, forced to drive everywhere by Seattle NIMBYs. The more of that 70K a year we can accommodate in the Seattle, the less sprawl, misery, and autocentric living we create.
30
@28 Population increased by 35,550 people between 2014 and 2015 in King County alone. (p. 11 here) Metro region wide it's quite a bit more than that. See @29 for why that matters.
31
david jw, I suspect you're right that if prices were lower the population growth would be even greater although I would be interested to see how "love to be in Seattle" could be operationalized in a study.

And I wonder what the consequences of 6% annual growth looks like compared to 3% annual growth, especially with government budgets that can only grow at 1% annually.

But, I don't think it's fair to say we are in a supply crunch due to a lack of zoning capacity. Builders were late to anticipate job growth but have been catching up and appear to be on track with the demographics. I'm suspicious that upzoning by itself will push those vacancies any higher.

32
@28,

Your 11,000 units is incorrect.

PSBJ: More than 11,000 new units are expected to open this year IN THE REGION (so, more than just Seattle)

In Seattle proper, less than 7,000 new units were finaled in 2015.
33
@14: yes there are parts of town that are undergoing very rapid development. It is also true that there is a tremendous amount of vacant and massively underutilized land in Seattle that is not being developed. Whatever the reasons are for this (zoning?, property owners hanging for better price someday?) need to be identified and addressed.
34
@30, Yes, I'm aware of the regional numbers. The OP was comparing units in Seattle to growth in the region -- I was offering an apples to apples comparison.

But even regionally, the 60,970(OFM) growth in 2014 tri-county is being met with 23,600 permitted units (MBA) in 2014. Assuming, conservatively, 2 bedrooms per unit (~8000 single-family and ~16,000 multifamily) that's 47,000 bedrooms for 61,000 people.

What explains the difference? Maybe that 14,000 is the size of the regional supply crunch. But there are also foreclosures in the outlying areas that are getting rehabbed and put on the market that previously sat empty -- this is especially true when we talk regionally because of the influence of Pierce County and rural areas in King and Snohomish.
35
@32. Thanks for catching that. I think the wording is ambiguous now that I look at it again. The previous sentence says "Seattle landlords" and the next says "region" without defining what region means. I assumed, at first, that it meant Seattle.
36
So what's the deal with constructing apartments with no cement between each floor? Over time those become a Godsend b/c you don't have to deal with noisy neighbors or neighbors who are heavy footed.
37
@34: You seem to be arguing that zoning caps don't matter, because the market is already meeting demand. If that's the case, then it would be a neutral policy to remove zoning caps, since it won't change anything anyway. Do you agree?
38
The presence or lack of cranes is probably a bad way to measure housing construction. So here are the actual figures for San Francisco:

As of six months ago (July 2015), there are 63,809 units in various stages of construction in San Francisco. That includes 38,066 units that have been approved by the City, 19,210 that are under review by the City, and 6,533 units that are still in the conceptual stages. Now, granted, some of these are multi-year projects, but the current pace is to have 30,000 new units by 2020. Of course, San Francisco has been averaging 10,000 new residents a year, so it may not alleviate any pressure at all.
39
@37, not that they don't matter but that if you look at the vacancy rate and you look at the no. of units getting built and the demographics, there doesn't seem to be a supply crunch due to zoning restrictions in Seattle. Not expecting much increased vacancy through additional upzones in Seattle doesn't mean I don't think zoning has an impact on supply -- just that we seem to have enough zoning supply and the vacancy rate we have now is better explained through greater hiring than builders anticipated.

San Francisco is a different story, which is one of the points of the article, too.
40
@7--<>

See--there's your problem. You think the moratorium is about affordable housing when it's about keeping the Mission Latino; keeping out the techies and showing that the Mission Neighborhood group is the power-broker in the area. It's about power, baby.
41
Trauss is an Astro-turf lizard. She was recently quoted as saying, if you're tired of getting drunk at the bar, you can just take over local government. She has stroked her mantra of renters rights into a nice corporate paycheck, due to misplaced publicity such as thus article. Her most recent attempt was to try and takeover local Sierra Club. Please, one way ticket back to Philly for this phony.

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