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December 2017

Region must play catch-up to meet housing needs

For the sixth straight year, population growth in King County, at 2.3 percent, has exceeded the creation of new housing (1.6 percent).

King County added 48,600 residents last year while housing stock grew by only 14,700 units, according to Dan Ryan of Sound Transit Blog. The 0.7 percent gap is a rough measure of the failure to create enough housing to meet needs (see chart).

The Regional Housing Gap

King County Housing & Population Growth

King County Housing and Population Growth comparison chart

King County's population growth has consistently outpaced housing creation.
Housing is percentage of prior year total units.

Reprinted with permission from Dan J. Ryan, Seattle Transit Blog

Citing data from the State Office of Financial Management, Ryan said both Snohomish and Pierce counties appeared more balanced until 2014, "but now face heightened housing pressures as displacement of King County workers from expensive local housing markets grows."

Writing in Seattle Transit Blog, Ryan reported Seattle accounts for 21 percent of the region's housing stock, but only 2 percent of added single family housing since 2010. Pierce and Snohomish counties have picked up much of the slack, but they are "increasingly unable to keep up with demand."

What's more, Ryan believes Seattle is significantly out of step with comparably sized cities in producing apartments that are appropriate for larger family units. "There's not much family in multi-family," he quipped, noting "81 percent of new Seattle apartments are studios or one-bedroom."

"Single-family is not the only form of family-friendly housing, but statistically, it's been a fair proxy in this region," Ryan stated. "While it makes obvious senses for densifying Seattle to shift toward multifamily housing forms, those forms are rarely targeted to families."

For many, the shortage means more crowding, higher rents, more displacement and longer commutes.

People on the margins of the housing market may live with parents longer or share space with more roommates. Some are homeless. Many residents face higher rents or rising home prices, which may mean relocating to neighboring counties.

While Seattle is faulted for under-producing homes for families, other cities around King County lag in producing "all sorts of homes," in part due to a reluctance among both suburban cities and Seattle neighborhoods to accept growth.

"Long highway commutes are not a sustainable solution to housing deficits near job centers," Ryan wrote in his blog," adding: "That doesn't mean slowing apartment building in urban areas of neighborhood centers. There's enough demand to go around."

Instead, he believes the best answer is a mix of larger apartments, and more townhomes, and more single family detached homes on smaller lots. He also suggests the next round of comprehensive plans set higher regional targets, along with paying close attention to the full range of housing needs, and considering the recently-released 10-point action plan from the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (Editor's note: see report in November edition of Northwest REporter).