One Solution to Seattle's Rental Crisis

Comments

1
The flip side of the argument against affordable housing is the argument against shared transportation: regulate Uber and Lyft and Sidecar out of business, cut Metro service, cave to the taxi mafia.
2
This. We left Capitol Hill for a less urban neighborhood because we couldn't find an affordable 3 bedroom for our family (2 parents, 1 kid, 2 cats, with plans for another baby). For less than some of the luxury apartments, we are renting a house, but miss being so close to the city. I don't need fancy amenities, just a decent place to live that doesn't break the bank.
3
I am curious if there is (or should be) a target ratio for luxury to affordable housing units. If there are fewer 700+ sq/ft apartments than people willing and able to pay for them, do those people compete for the smaller, more affordable apartments, driving up the price? E.g. If someone builds a high rise with 100 units that have more than 700 sq/ft and cost $1200+, does that (potentially) free up 100 units of 500 sq/ft apartments that would rent for $700?
4
Build ghettos ! Brilliant! Worked great in Deeeetroit.

Or u could move to seatac and take that train you all have such a hard on for. Why Cap Hill? Too many coloreds in seatac?
6
This statement is absolute nonsense:

"What’s fueling rent increases most is development itself, said Jonathan Grant, the Tenant Union’s executive director."

What's fueling rent increases is demand for housing. Building expensive housing CANNOT create demand for expensive housing.

Every expensive housing unit that's built is absorbing demand from a high-income renter, who otherwise would be bidding up lower cost housing and outcompeting people with lower incomes. In other words, the construction of new expensive housing is actually preserving cheaper housing for lower income people.
7
From my vantage point, having worked in the local building industry for almost a decade, I've seen units get smaller for the most part, although the new buildings usually have a few larger units included. I guess if you're primarily looking at available units then you may see it slanted toward larger, much more expensive apartments, because the smaller, more affordable units have already been rented out.
8
@6 no. The demand is independent of price. People of all income levels want to live in Seattle. The point is that only one income demographic is being accommodated and every landlord is using those price points to slap down some laminate flooring and jack the rent 30% .
9
There is affordable housing in every city, it is just that you have to be willing to live where the brown people live.

Which is simply not an option for a lot of people who would never admit it.
10
Not to say rising rents are not a problem, and that solutions to keep rent stable are not needed, that is.
11
As long as we can have Charles bitch about people who can't afford to live in Seattle (I mean what's wrong with an aPodment?) but still work in Seattle. So they have to do the horrid thing of drive to work since they have no fucking bus service where they can actually afford to live. I just don't want to do anything that will stop Charles from bitching about those folks.

12
It is expensive to have a family in the city. This is not news. A lot of people move to less urban areas when they decide to start a family. I live in a single room and, consequently, have a very reliable form of birth control. It is really not my problem if somebody has a kid they can't afford to house in a hip neighborhood. Frankly, that's what the suburbs are for. If you don't like it, get an IUD.
13
Eventually, there will be a shortage of folks wealthy enough to rent these new lux-o-spaces, and the price will come down to where people can afford them.

This will take a few years, but developers will always overbuild until they run out of bank loans.
14
I'm not sure how widespread of a problem this is, but here should be a limit on how long a unit can sit empty. In my old Ballard complex, the landlord (who inherited all his properties from his dad) let 2 of the 5 units sit empty for about a year. This was right at the beginning of the Great Recession.
I'd make the same argument for retail and other business space. It is a blight to see a place go out of business because the landlord wanted to severely jack up the rent, only to see an empty shop where a cool bookstore or funky cafe used to be.
15
Even $600 is too much for me.
16

Good thing Washington State spent billions of dollars in the past two decades to build an advanced fast rail transit system that can take people quickly from all regions of the Puget Sound to centralized job locations like Redmond, Seattle and Everett. Now that there are no cars on the highways due to this advanced rail system, life is so much better and cheaper.
17
The are more than 10,000 people in Seattle who are renting units that have been built in the last 5 years. Many have moved here from places like LA, NY, Omaha and Ellensburg. Did they move to Seattle simply because there were new apartments to house them or were they drawn to our city by another reason? Now ask yourself where these people would be living if the new apartments hadn't been built. Imagine a city in which these 10,000 new people were fighting for even fewer units. The wealthier tenants that Jonathan Grant laments would still be flocking to our city, the only difference is that they'd be spending their money (and driving the rents up) on units that currently house the less-wealthy.

To say that this new supply is fueling rent increases is a profoundly stupid statement. Dom, if you want to help affordability in Seattle you need to not only advocate for smaller units but also call out idiots like Jonathan Grant when they make such nonsensical claims.
18
Location, location, location...
19
It is exceedingly difficult to develop new Workforce housing. The cost of the land alone forces the hand of the developers.

And the architect living in 196sf can go fuck herself. That is a stunt, not a replicable solution. A standard bathroom is 80sf alone.
20
I wonder how incentivizing this would work out. If I knew any apartment developers I'd ask them what it might take to make it not just possible but preferable to them.
21
@16: Do you wake up every day and think hard about all the stupid things you're going to say and do? Do you ever try to make sense?
22
The only solution at this point is for the current tech bubble to burst. Once that happens, those high prices will fall really fast. Granted, unemployment will skyrocket and the quality of life will decline for everyone, but since there are no serious proposals for addressing overpriced rental units (and no, the invisible hand of the market isn't driving up the costs "naturally") the collapse of the tech industry (and resulting fallout in other professional fields) and the resulting collapse of wages (many of which are inflated) will force the housing and rental markets to adapt. Obviously, this is not a good scenario, but do people seriously believe that politicians or real estate/rental companies are going to level out rental prices without being forced to?
23
@19: Yeah, let us know when it's finished, the total cost including freebies from her sponsors, and how well it actually works for her lifestyle with two adults and a child (as she stated it was designed for), and how much the land she's on costs as well.

I love the idea, but I can't imagine it works as well as the glowing articles about the process state.
24
@14 Absolutely. It makes me want to punch a landlord every time I walk past the still-empty Pioneer Square building that used to house Elliott Bay Books.

Real estate is an industry where I think there needs to be serious public regulation pushback against pure libertarian capitalism -- bad landlord decisions can easily ruin neighborhoods in a way few other industries can. Landlords who can afford to let "luxury" real estate sit empty for long periods of time rather than bringing it down to true market rates are a huge part of why increased development can't keep average rents in check.
25
I hope I'm not channeling Charles Mudede, but...

This is not a solvable problem in a free-reign capitalist marketplace. The additional expenses and amenities required in the construction of a luxury high-rise, better architecture, nicer materials, even a doorman, over the cost of building affordable apartments, are only a fraction of the cost of building anything in the city. So, if making that additional investment increases your projected return per square foot by far more than that, and the market exists to fill such a building, how can you stop an entrepreneur from doing that?

You need a municipal willingness to have something like a Housing Authority, that would construct projects of affordable apartments, with taxpayer funding, via eminent domain, that could hopefully be at least self-sustaining. Or something like the Mitchell-Lama co-ops in NYC. Trying to find inducements that would get entrepreneurs to forgo profits will probably cost the city more than just doing it themselves.
26
Here you go, I found 'affordable housing' in less than 30 seconds:

3726 S 180th St, Seatac, WA 98188
For Rent: $785/mo
Deposit & Fees: $0
Bedrooms:1 bed
Bathrooms:1 bath
Days on Zillow:13 days on Zillow
Multi Family:636 sq ft
Pets:Cats, dogs
Laundry:Shared
Parking:Carport

Get a roommate and you're paying less than $400 a month. 15 minute walk from Seatac Light Rail.

Oh wait, no white hipsters and cool coffee shops, ergo, it's "unaffordable'.
27
@24, I feel similarly when i see SAM's lame attempts at posting something witty on the old Lusty Lady marquee. Didn't they go out of business because he landlord wanted to drastically increase their rent? And that space has been empty for how long?
28
Wow so much affordable housing and so close to transit!

Or if you want your own room, here's a two bedroom, less than $500/head, less than 20 minutes from Seatac train station by bus and foot:

19740 Military Rd SAPT A, Seatac, WA 98188

For Rent: $995/mo
Rent Zestimate®: $1,020/mo
Deposit & Fees: $700
Bedrooms:2 beds
Bathrooms:2 baths
Days on Zillow:2 days on Zillow
Multi Family:900 sq ft

Or:

Corinthian Apartments
Apartment, 104 units 3039 South 154th Street, Seatac WA 98188
One and two bedrooms from $740 - $1050

8 minute walk to Tukwila train station.

or:

Avalon Apartments
Apartment, 41 units 3469 South 152nd Street, Tukwila WA 98188
Startting at $595

7 minute walk to Tukwila train station.
29
The solution I've been seeing is that tenants simply put more people in the apartment than their lease says they can. Two bedroom apartment? Two families, with kids. One bedroom? A couple, and then another person sleeping on the couch. One apartment should not be putting 4-5 cars in the parking lot, but absentee landlords and lazy management allow it to happen.
30
Yikes. Glad I moved to Portland two years ago.
31
@27, for what it's worth I don't believe SAM has any say over what the Lusty Lady's former landlord puts up on the marquee now. And I agree the post-Lusty ones are 100% lame.
32
@14,

I'm often bemused by how those new luxury developments *always* have empty units. Try walking around part of a neighborhood that still has old buildings, you'll see nothing but No Vacancy signs. Then take a turn by some of the new developments. Every last one of them has a Available to Lease sandwich board outside. I guess not maintaining 100 percent occupancy is working out for them somehow, but it still seems pretty crazy to me.
33
@6, Yes, increasing supply reduces demand and lowers prices, in a closed system. But Seattle isn't a closed system, and it can import people from around the globe. We're so successful as a city right now that building more may very well be inducing even more demand than we can keep up with. Looking at global megacities such as London and Tokyo, or even Sydney and Vancouver, makes it clear that we could probably keep attracting high-paying talent for years or decades to come without breaking the back of demand. So the NIMBYs are right with the diagnosis of unaffordability but wrong about the cure. Building less housing, or trying to gate our city, is a guaranteed disaster. But building more, on its own, is merely a necessary but not sufficient condition to lower prices. We need developer incentives that induce a diversity of housing stock to be built, and we need fast, reliable transit.
34
@24: According to The Lusty Lady's owners, they went out of business because the internet took away much of their business.

The landlord of the building (an old wealthy Seattle family, as I recall) kept rent low and turned down huge offers from developers seeking to tear it down and redevelop (see, for example, the new towering Four Seasons building next door).
35
@8 Saying housing price doesn't affect demand, or vice versa, is ridiculous on its face. There are few things in this world where price is independent of demand, and housing is absolutely not one of them.

@33 It doesn't have to be a closed system. People tend to change cities primarily based on employment. Decreasing the number of jobs in Seattle will drop demand, but decreasing the number of homes won't.
36
"anti-density scolds who use false moral arguments"

Ah, the old "false moral arguments" argument to make a weak argument argumentative.
37
What @9, @26,@28 said, what so-called hip people can do if they can't afford Ballard, Capitol Hill or Wallingford is move to the more affordable darker skinned areas of the region. That's what a lot of younger upscale people have done in NYC--couldn't afford Manhattan, so they moved to the primarily dark skinned inhabited Bed Sty, and Bushwick areas of Brooklyn, NY. Eventually, they can also build the hip cultural scenes with alt music clubs and bowling alleys in these downscale Seattle areas like they did if they're as hip as they claim to be.
39
@35, but the demand for high-priced housing in Seattle is nowhere near being satisfied; we would probably have to build a hundred thousand units to exhaust it. In addition, the pressure on owners of cheap rentals (i.e., crappy ones) to demolish and build new expensive ones is relentless, such that expensive housing explicitly drives out affordable housing -- because it is built on top of it.
40
Luxury apartments do not remain luxury apartments forever. Seattle's most affordable dense housing is obsolete units that were once luxury.

The problem is that we stifled development for so long, that we no longer have an middle-aged stock of old luxury housing. It's all either obsolete, or brand new. We've had a nearly 40 year period of extremely restricted in-city housing growth, and the echo of that will be felt long-term, until the days when our recently-built luxury apartments feel dated and inconvenient.

Only then will the rent bubble begin to taper off.
41
@37 that sort of gentrification is already happening in Georgetown and I imagine the ID will follow. But unlike Brooklyn, much of the rest of Seattle lacks the density and transit to attract and allow any sort of vibrant urban scene. It's just city streets with houses...hardly any commercial, hardly any smaller units that appeal to young couples or singles.

More and more people want to live in the city. Problem is, only a few neighborhoods feel like a city. More than half of Seattle feels almost suburban.
42
@14: This.

http://www.communityprogress.net/

Residential or commercial, vacant properties impose real costs on communities. Disincentivize keeping properties vacant by imposing escalating costs for mandatory inspections and hazard mitigation (weeds, vandalism, etc.). Hundreds of local governments across the country are doing this.
43
@37, Rainier Valley and Columbia City have light rail, plus in CC, you've got some construction of newer apartments with amenities that would go for so much more in the North Seattle, so not as much as Brooklyn but there are some possibilities.
44
@37, Rainier Valley and Columbia City have light rail, plus in CC, you've got some construction of newer apartments with amenities that would go for so much more in the North Seattle, so not as much density as Brooklyn but there are some possibilities. While Georgetown has seen some gentrification, it faces some of the limitations you mentioned insofar as a lack of apartment density.
45
scratch @43
46
@39 But any relief of demand on the high end reduces prices below. The rich that want to live in our city will live in our city, no matter how many or few new condos we build for them. The difference is that they just move into apartments that would have been workforce rate, and drive up rents. Every additional unit built in the city allows one more household to live here. And that one more household isn't the rich (again, they will afford to live here no matter what).
47
Because "wealthy" people totally rent.
48
@41, I agree with this, unfortunately the city council is rewarded by those that profit off perpetuating and instituationalizing policy that leads to more imbalance.

I think the incentivizing after the fact is just dumb, like infrastructure beautification projects where development has already occurred, and will continue to occur on its own, with or without throwing more public money at a neighborhood.
If the vote on the rest of the city paying $250 million dollars toward the "Waterfront for All" fails will the property that suddenly has a view of the water after the AWV comes down lie fallow?
no. That property will build up and price out at a feverish rate. (And does anybody actually think it's a Waterfront for All?)

Would the city be better off putting $250 million dollars toward improving neighborhoods that are little more than "streets with houses" be more attractive to developing the less expensive lands?
yes. But that's a choice, a zoning choice, a public investment choice.

Throwing more "amenity" money at the usual suspects is not going to encourage development of enough housing for Seattle to absorb all the people that will be coming here, into the city, over the coming decades.

Want more and lower priced apartments?
Invest modest amounts of money in infrastructure and transportation in less glamorous neighborhoods, allow/zone in more commercializations and higher building heights.
Want to make money, build in other neighborhoods on cheaper land, and make it up on volume.
49
I gotta second @37/@28 and those of the same mind, I dont see where its a right for someone to live downtown because they cant afford the rent. The people that can afford it all work downtown most likely and support local business as well. Are they worse people because they have a better paying job? There are plenty of more affordable options a bus ride away, north and south. This is a very Seattle centric view, we want it all and dont want to work or pay for it.
50
@46, except that, as I described, the new luxury units REPLACE the cheap units, they don't supplement them.

@40, that's not true. Very few of the cheap rentals in this city were ever luxury. The cheap-rent house next door to me (five units) has been a cheap boarding house since 1909. The miles of crummy apartments in Ballard and Greenwood have always been cruddy apartments, whether they were built in the 50s, 60s, 70s, or 80s.

In fact, it's more common to go the other way -- run-of-the-mill old apartment buildings in Belltown or Capitol Hill being converted into expensive rentals or condominiums. The condominium movement from its beginning was about renovating old apartment houses into fancier owned digs.
51
@50, Once again you're spouting pure indefensible bullshit. Of the several thousand units that have been built on Capitol Hill recently or are currently under construction, how many units were torn down? I'd be impressed is you can find more than 100. There was The Underarms and um, um, um. I'd be shocked if less than 95% of the new luxury units in the neighborhood replaced surface parking lots or one-story un/underutilized commercial buildings.

FFS old man, do you ever even leave your house? Get out every once-in-a-while and open your eyes -- you might learn something.
52
It's ridiculous to say these are all luxury units. When it costs a few hundred dollars per square foot to construct a unit, the developer isn't going to look at the difference of $3/sqft vs $12/sqft for finishing materials. It's a few %% of total build. They'd be stupid NOT to use luxury materials.

All that means though is a redefinition of average. The effect on rent or purchase cost ends up being negligible. No real incentives exist to build below market rate except for size.

The population of Seattle dropped massively in the 1970s and picked up again in the 1990s. It's recent that we met our previous population. We're booming now. There's a massive unmet latency in housing from that bust period, and also a whole lot of lowered expectations of what housing should cost.

There's nothing now that's going to fix that now. When tech/bio hiring levels out again, when lower incomes have risen up, when a few stagnant buildings go bankrupt, and when expectations go up. Then things may stabilize. It was only four years ago my building was offering move-in incentives...
53
@12 Well aren't you a condescending ray of sunshine? She's already moved, but I'm sure she really appreciates your spread of negative ass-hattery.
54
Normally, you wouldn't think that building expensive units would increase demand, but ...

1. To some folks, the availability of expensive units is a signal that they can move to Seattle, when they otherwise couldn't. Presumably this isn't an inexhaustible number of people, but it could be a large one.

2. Expensive housing helps households with lower incomes if it "filters." Super-rich person moves into Unit A, freeing up Unit B for ordinary rich person, who frees up Unit C etc. But if extra households move into town and/or people rent units as city pied a terres or corporate apartments or whatever, the filtration chain stops.

If you can add cheap new units, the filtration chains can really reach down to poorer people. Some years back San Diego encouraged the construction of new residential hotels. One result was that the existing residential hotels, pretty much the bottom of the housing chain, lost tenants, and had to clean up their act.

3. There needs to be lots and lots of permanently affordable social housing (publicly or non-profit owned) built, a la Vancouver.
55
What I don't understand is how/why landlords can have 40+ VACANT rentals and they keep increasing the price on the vacant rentals... How can you have that many units sitting empty for a year or more and keep increasing your asking price? If you didnt rent it out last year for the lower price, how is increasing the rent multiple times going to attract renters? I see Kettler Management in the DC area doing this.
56
I wish everything was as simple as you try to make it sound in your article. Yes, rents in the City of Seattle have risen, but percentage wise the cost of food has risen even more. Also the increase in property tax from King County has forced small apartment owners to increase there rents. As a small apartment owner in the city my property tax went up over $20,000 annually and now the Federal government wants even more. I have many long term tenants and have always kept any increases low for them until this year when I could no longer afford to do that for many of them.

Take a look at the City Of Seattle's "Multi Family Tax Exempt Program" and you will find out that many of the new developments are taking advantage of this program. Under this program many new developments do not have to pay King County property tax for 12 years. In exchange for not having to pay property tax for 12 years there is a suppose to be "affordable apartments" for the lower wage earner. The problem is that the mathematical equation that was used to decide what is affordable for the lower wager earner does not fit into this equation. Anyone that is earning in the lower end of the pay scale still cannot afford to live in any new development.

So this means the new developments are not paying property tax and also NOT proving homes for the lower end wage earner! Mean while someone has to pick up the slack for King County and the State to receive the tax dollars that are needed and that burden is now being pushed on to the people who can least afford it.
57
This