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February 2017

New home permits highest in nearly a decade, but far from adequate

Permits for single family houses in the metro Puget Sound region totaled 10,259 in 2016, a nine-year high according to a report in the Puget Sound Business Journal. Although the number marked a 9.3 percent increase from 2015, it falls well-short of the need.

PSBJ reporter Marc Stiles cited U.S. Census data and comments from researcher Todd Britsch in his report, which noted last year's volume of permits was 36 percent below the figure for 2006 when 16,061 permits were issued.

Britsch, the regional director of Bothell-based Metrostudy, estimates the four-county metro area gained 25,000 new drivers during the third quarter of 2016. Based on average household size and homeownership rates, he estimates 28,000 new homes a year will be needed to satisfy demand.

Britsch, whose firm serves the homebuilding industry, expects housing prices will continue to skyrocket if growth management regulations continue to constrain the supply of building lots. The lack of land where homes can be built is "a big part of the problem," according to Britsch.

The PSBJ report noted "For now no county wants to expand the boundary." It referenced Puget Sound Regional Council reports and the counties' recent analysis of their capacity for growth. They generally conclude existing boundaries are adequate to support planned growth, but agency spokesman Rick Olson acknowledged the region "could very well not be building enough single-family houses, especially near job centers." 

Britsch emphasized not everyone moving here will want to rent one of the thousands of new apartments that have been built, mostly in Seattle. Even if they do, he believes many - "even the millennials migrating here" - eventually will want to move to single-family homes "to escape chronic homelessness and other urban ills."  Ultimately, he thinks counties will consider the contentious idea of expanding their urban growth boundaries.