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February 2018

News in Brief

  • Rents are dropping significantly across the Seattle area for the first time this decade, as a flood of new construction has left apartments sitting empty in Seattle's hottest neighborhoods. The average rent across King and Snohomish counties dipped 2.9 percent in December compared with the prior quarter, according to a new quarterly landlord survey by Apartment Insights/RealData. Rents sometimes drop by a few bucks this time of year. But the latest quarterly drop is the biggest this decade by far, and amounted to a savings of about $50 a month for the average renter across the region. In neighborhoods in and around downtown Seattle, the dip equates to an average of $100 in monthly savings for renters signing new leases. The biggest rent decreases were mostly in the popular Seattle neighborhoods that are getting the most new apartments. Rents dipped more than 6 percent compared with the prior quarter in First Hill, downtown Seattle, Belltown, South Lake Union and Ballard, along with Redmond and the Sammamish/Issaquah area. Compared with a year earlier, rents still increased 4.5 percent regionwide, but that was the slowest year-over-year growth since 2011 and down from the double-digit increases that became common over the last few years. The slowdown comes as the number of new apartments opening across the area has hit record levels and has begun to significantly outpace the number of new renters.


  • Amazon has leased two more mid-sized office buildings in South Lake Union as the company's rapid growth in Seattle continues unabated, according to the Seattle Times. The company confirmed Friday it has leased all the office space in the new 11-story, 162,000-square-foot building at 9th and Thomas, as well as about 186,000 square feet in the former Pemco Insurance headquarters on Eastlake Avenue, next to the REI flagship store. The Puget Sound Business Journal first reported the leases. For just about any other local company, the moves would amount to a huge expansion. For Amazon, which has more than 8 million square feet in Seattle already and plans to get to 12 million soon, it's a drop in the bucket. A year-end report from the Broderick Group, out Friday, said Amazon had five of the seven biggest leases signed in Seattle in 2017. Those deals added another 1.65 million to the company's footprint. The two latest deals mean the company has seven of the nine biggest leases in the city since the start of 2017. In all, the company has expanded by 2 million square feet just since last January. For perspective: No other company has 2 million square feet total in the city.


  • The U.S. Supreme Court will hear Washington's culvert case this year, heating up a 17-year legal battle over the state's duty to protect and restore salmon habitat as part of its obligation to respect tribes' treaty fishing rights, according to the Seattle Times. The case, Washington v. U.S. et al., initially was filed by 21 Washington tribes with treaty-protected fishing rights in 2001. At issue is the state's obligation to repair road culverts that block salmon from their spawning habitat. Culverts that are too small, or pitched too high above the stream bed, or in other ways are unsuitable for fish passage destroy miles of habitat above the culvert. That depletes fish runs which tribes rely on and are entitled to by treaties. In signing treaties with the U.S. government that in the 1850s ceded thousands of miles of territory for non-Indian settlement, tribes reserved their right to fish at their usual and accustomed places. That right to fish was affirmed in 1974 by U.S. District Court Judge for the Western District George Boldt, and later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. It divided the catch between tribal and non-tribal fishers and also established tribes as co-managers of salmon with the state of Washington. The culvert case is an extension of that decision, in which tribes have argued that their reserved treaty right is meaningless if habitat that sustains fish runs is allowed to degrade until there are no fish to catch. Courts have agreed. In 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez for the Western District ruled the tribal treaty right to harvest salmon includes the right to have salmon protected so there are enough to harvest. The court gave the state 17 years to reopen about 450 of its 800 culverts that pose the biggest barrier to fish in Western Washington. The state appealed that case to the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and lost, and lost again when the state asked the appeals court to reconsider. Meanwhile, culvert repair has continued under the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Natural Resources, and state parks. The Washington Department of Transportation, with the most culverts to repair, has committed additional funding to culvert repairs, which it has continued to make as it does road projects all over the region. At the rate repairs are going, WSDOT is close to meeting the court's mandate, though more funding is needed. Tribes and the state have been in negotiations to settle the case but in a news release issued Friday, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said discussion so far did not resolve his concern that the Ninth Circuit decision is overbroad and could be used by tribes to insist on other steps, such as dam removal or curtailment of logging, farming or construction that affects fish habitat.


  • Governor Inslee signed into law, SB 6091, a "Hirst fix" that allows rural property owners with well water. Highlights of the bill include: 1) allows 950 gallons of water per day in some basins, and 3,000 gallons of water per day in other basins, 2) charges a $500 fee for a new exempt well, 3) declares existing exempt wells are not impacted, 4) allows counties to rely on Ecology rules for water resources, 5) spends $300 million on projects to enhance stream flows, 6) creates two pilot projects on measuring water use, and 6) does not require metering.


  • A new report, as published on KOMONews.com, from the group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety says Oregon and Washington roads are some of the safest in the country. The group ranked all 50 states based on the traffic safety laws they have in place. Oregon and Washington both ranked high on the list thanks to their enforced cell phone restrictions and strict seat belt laws. The group says car crashes cost the U.S. economy more than $830 billion a year. California, Louisiana, Rhode Island, Delaware and Washington DC also had high-ranked roads.


  • Our region's population hit 4 million people just over a year ago. Now, there's a prediction that it will reach nearly 6 million by 2050. It's the latest growth projection from The Puget Sound Regional Council. The numbers are expected to hold even though our big jobs engine, Amazon, plans to grow elsewhere. The Puget Sound Regional Council says we'll continue to expand as a tech hub, gaining 1.2 million jobs by mid-century. That will bring an average of 55,000 people a year, which is actually slow growth compared to the last few years. However, many of the workers moving to our region live alone. Back in the 1970s the average household had three people. By 2050, the average is expected to drop to just over two. That's a trend that will put sustained pressure on our housing supply.


  • The SP200 (Swanepoel Power 200) provides a ranking of the leaders and executives in the residential real estate brokerage industry and is published annually by T3 Sixty. The SP200 team invests more than 400 hours analyzing hundreds of bios, annual reports and transaction and sales volume data. Several brokers in Washington state were recognized in the SP 200.