The Seattle Planning Commission has issued Housing Seattle, a report developed using data from the United States Census Bureau, the American Community Survey and surveys of the Seattle housing market. As Erica Barnett pointed out at Publicola, the report is largely about whether housing is affordable in Seattle. The report concludes, “Seattle households are increasingly burdened by their housing costs.”

That burden is measured by the classic normative standard for measuring affordability; no more than 30 percent of a household’s income should be spent on housing costs. While the report makes some good recommendations based in solid data, the use of the 30 percent rule of thumb only raises more questions about what the housing problem really is, or whether there is a problem at all. We need better language and measures when talking about housing if we’re going to make good policy that accommodates growth. More after the jump.

First, let’s take a look at the recommendations. The Commission reviewed the data on housing costs and made the following recommendations:

  1. Subsidize housing for the lowest-income households.
  2. Link housing affordability to transportation costs.
  3. Give more attention to Seattle’s housing along and near arterials.
  4. Stabilize housing costs over time through home-ownership assistance.
  5. Promote and encourage housing production that addresses gaps in the market for families with children.
  6. Revise land use code, design review process, and development standards with an eye toward affordability.
  7. Treat affordable housing as one of many important aspects of “affordable living.”
  8. Look for new opportunities to promote housing affordability.
  9. Update Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan goals and policies.

I won’t go through all of them, but in terms of housing near transit, recommendations 2 and 3 strike me as good ones. Billions of dollars have been invested in light rail and infrastructure around transit and some of that subsidy for affordable transit should be factored into measuring housing affordability. And putting people next to arterials means they’ll be close to bus lines.

But the way we talk about housing affordability doesn’t add up. First of all, we need to get the apples and oranges sorted out. Housing price is what it is. A two-bedroom condominium at Escala starts at $549,000. Whether a person can afford that housing unit is an expression of their relationship to that price. Price is determined by costs, supply, and demand. Affordability is a subjective measure that changes based on a person’s judgment about how much they can and will pay for something.

When people in Seattle opine, “it’s harder than ever to afford housing in Seattle,” they’re talking about the oranges of affordability not the apples of price. Mixing the two things—price and affordability—doesn’t work. The unit at Escala might not be affordable to me, but it’s affordable to someone. And it’s likely that the longer one of those units sits on the market that the price will drop in response to lack of demand.

Furthermore, the standard measure of affordability isn’t about price at all, its actually about a family’s income relative to housing cost. But when policy makers try to respond to people’s concerns about housing costs they almost never try to intervene by increasing people’s incomes; instead they try to lower price. So when the Commission, or anyone talking about housing affordability, says housing is not affordable because it eats up too much of some people’s incomes, are they worried about housing price or people’s incomes? In other words, is the price too big or are the paychecks too small?

I’m sure they’d say both things are true. But if reducing price is what we’re after there are two tried and true ways to do that: increase housing supply and reduce the costs associated with developing housing. The problem is that the Seattle City Council in true liberal Democratic fashion almost always tries to reduce the price of housing relative to a person’s income through more regulation. Rather than telling developers “build more housing!” the Council dreams up regulatory schemes to reduce price by reducing developer profit.

The Commission’s report addresses this:

We acknowledge there are limits to how local government can influence housing cost. Markets are a big factor in determining housing costs: the more desirable a location, the more costly housing is likely to be. Therefore, local government must use available tools like zoning regulations, building codes, land use regulations, development standards, incentives, and subsidies wisely to affect the market.

Acknowledging the market is a good place to start, although it’s demand not location that determines price. Unfortunately, when the City Council uses land use regulation to affect housing price it usually ends up limiting the supply of housing. More regulation of development, especially in transit areas, can hardly reduce costs. The time it takes to permit, zoning battles with NIMBYs, and other regulatory hurdles like incentive zoning (requiring housing units priced at 30 percent of someone earning 80 percent of Area Median Income in exchange for an upzone) just adds more cost burdens to housing production. Also, let’s face it, how people choose where they live is only partially a function of housing price. The quality of local public schools is more important for some families.

The Commission’s report is a good first step, but we need to keep moving toward recommendation number 9, a broader view and definition of affordability that considers residual income; that is, how much money a family has left after it pays for housing. Let’s cut regulation so developers can create more housing supply; that’s sure to help price. And the affordability problem might not be that housing is too expensive but that other things—like health care, transportation, day care—are. The answer for sure is not more well intended, height obsessed regulation that adds to the costs of producing housing, and limits housing production.

68 Replies to “The Price is Wrong: Planning Commission Issues Housing Report”

  1. We’re in a collapsing real-estate <bubble (still, link), the housing market is still reeling from widespread banking fraud, and we have the worst economy in 80 years. The report addresses none of these realities (the bubble is at least mentioned) and is therefore a poor guide for policy-making.

    Croak!

    1. I’m sorry, did you just attempt to defeat an entire report with the unsupported accusation of “You didn’t think about the economy?”

    2. The real estate slump is affecting different parts of the country differently. In Seattle it exists but it’s relatively mild. If Boeing, Microsoft, and Amazon all went out of business, then it would be like what half the country is facing. The main effect of the crash here is the disappearance of homebuyers and the increase in middle-income renters. So the problem with rents is the same now as it was before the crash.

      The main issue for Seattle’s economy is not the resilence it has had so far, but the possibility of a more severe downturn in the future. But that’s outside the scope of the housing report.

      1. Washington’s economy has been historically out of sync with the National economy and often feels the effects on a delayed basis. Boeing orders dry up months or a couple of years after a major economic downturn. Now obviously our region’s economy has diversified but not all industries are doing well. I’m hearing anecdotally that family farms and orchards east of the mountains are not doing so well.

        The housing foreclosure problem and falling housing prices seems to have hit Washington almost 1.5 years after the rest of the country. But, Seattle also has some of the highest rental costs in the country. The foreclosure “crisis” is taking housing stock out of the market and often is not available for rentals.

    3. The real estate slump means that renters are being squeezed harder, because no one wants to own.

      I could actually lower my monthly housing payment significantly right now by ditching my Triplex apartment and buying a foreclosed/short-sale single family house in Delridge. Even with taxes/utilities taken into account.

      But there’s no way in hell I could get approved for a mortgage, because it would still be more than %50 of my income. In the meantime, all the people who could get approved for a mortgage, but don’t want to purchase a home while values are dropping, are crowding the rental market and driving rents up.

      Yeah, I’m bitter that my rent is going up by $50/month in January. Can you tell?

      1. I’m not willing to give up transit access and walkable neighborhoods just so I can own.

        That said I wish I was in a position to get in on the foreclosure/short-sale action. But a lack of savings and poor credit due to a prior period of unemployment mean I wouldn’t get approved for a loan.

        OTOH Not owning means I don’t have to deal with the headache of unloading a house or condo should I need to move for some reason.

        A recent rent increase is part of the reason I’m currently looking to move. My rent went from $1750/mo to $2200/mo. Aside from me being annoyed at the huge increase, the property is now overpriced for what it is.

  2. The basic 30% metric is misleading. A better metric would be housing + transportation. As many of us pedestrians and transit riders know, you can spend way more on housing when you spend little or nothing on transportation. Maybe housing + transportation (local) should total 45-50%?

    1. The report does mention that (page 4). Average housing 33%, transportation 15%, but it would be nice to have more detail.

  3. A very impressive report by the SPC, staff and consultants packed into 48 pages. I had a bit of trouble figuring out the charts and data, as they bounce around Seattle city limits data, mixed with other larger area trends, so I’m not sure what conclusion is proper to draw from that for the transportation side of things.
    In general the difference in my mind is that jobs pay more in Seattle than in the suburbs, housing cost more, and the choice between where to live and where you work is largely driven by that mental calculation we all make.
    To what degree the general population should subsidize those decisions is another whole matter. The ST550 bus from Bellevue to Seattle is a 43 cent subsidy of the full fare published price. Airport Link is about $16 and Sounder from Tacoma or Everett is much more than that.

  4. PS, good article Roger.

    In the “reducing regulation” category, kudos to the City for reducing the amount of parking required in many districts. This is cutting tens of thousands of wasted dollars per unit (unused parking spaces) from many projects. In fact it’s a big factor the current apartment boom.

  5. I see what you’re getting at Roger but I don’t think a libertarian shtick will get you very far in Seattle. What’s more likely to work is regulation that would lower development costs (for example, parking maximums or even prohibiting parking for some small projects) and streamlining the permitting and review process.

    Also in my opinion the current state of housing in the whole country is still extremely off-balance due to the obsession with everyone owning too-big houses. It went right up to 2008 and is still the focus of real estate marketing to some extent. One of the most helpful things I’ve read at Seattle Bubble simply stated that you should decide what you need *first* and then look for how you can get it, rather than starting with your income level and spending your whole 30% gross income on more space than you need.

    1. You don’t need to prohibit parking for small projects. Just remove the REQUIREMENT to provide 100% parking, in certain areas, on certain sizes of project. Developers will review the demand, and build what people want to buy.

      1. Seattle already has reduced or removed parking minimums in many areas, especially around downtown.

        Parking maximums or prohibitions may be proposed for downtown or urban centers, to get around the construction funding issue. If the level of parking is left up to the market, many construction lenders will mandate high parking ratios. If parking is outright banned, lenders would be forced to play along if they wanted to lend in that area.

        I’m still more comfortable with no parking requirements, myself.

    2. “you should decide what you need *first* and then look for how you can get it”

      Yes.

      “rather than starting with your income level and spending your whole 30% gross income on more space than you need.”

      If people could get more space than they need with 30% of their income, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. The issue is people spending 50% of their income just to get a studio or a room in a house.

  6. “even prohibiting parking for some small projects”

    “‘everyone owning too-big houses.”

    Geez, tell me which communal farm my family has been assigned to and I will work with the resident political officer.

    Soviet of Washington indeed…

    1. Most zoning is incredibly prescriptive about houses needing to be separate from shops and offices, a certain amount of parking is required, etc. Presumably you’re against these requirements too?

    2. Considering this country has essentially been forcing people into property and living situations they can’t afford for decades through the double-whammy of heavily-subsidized highways and dismal funding of badly-needed city infrastructure, perhaps you should consider who’s been manipulated and how.

      1. I remember, with sadness, the day the goons from the Ford Motor Company came over and forced my father to buy that Edsel and force us onto a reservation in the suburbs. Momma was crying, trying to pack up our remaining possessions from the apartment we lived in. The goons slapped my dad around and demanded he get the undercoating in addition to the floormats…

        Sad days indeed.

    3. In terms of both financial and environmental sustainability, lots of people live in houses that are flatly too big or too expensive.

      I agree with you on prohibiting parking, I don’t think it makes sense. I actually think the government should remove both its regulations and its subsidies for parking; in many places this would actually make parking much more expensive.

  7. So tell me, why is this on a TRANSIT blog? Except for one VERY small mention about Transit, there is NO mention of it anywhere in the post.

    I understand it’s not good news, sobering news actually. But, on a transit blog? Misplaced.

    1. I disagree, transit allocation drives land use and land use drives transit allocation. You really cannot seperate the two.

      1. Exactly. If people, particularly the very low-income, can’t afford to live in Seattle, they move to the suburbs. This increases demand on transit and the implications there for transportation planning are significant. In addition, the very low-income population uses transit very differently than middle class commuters.

      2. Exactly, let’s house all the poor in huge towers near city centers, where they have access to transit and are close to those high paying jobs…

        bwahahaha!

  8. Here’s what’s bizarre.

    The PI today ran a story that (surprise) apartment vacancy rates have risen, not dropped, meaning more units are empty.

    Somehow, they “project” that this will reverse (they don’t say why).

    However, while vacancies have risen, rents have also risen.

    This seems to me to indicate there’s a lot of price fixing going on in Seattle rental properties.

    1. Price fixing? How so? Owning and renting out residential and commercial property is a business. Owners who try get whatever the market will bear. If I owned 10 units I could get $1000 each for it would be a business decision to see how long I would wait to get $1200. Most owners need the cash flow to pay the mortgage and the do maintenance. Vacancies are not a good option.

      1. But if vacancies go up, one would expect there to be more competition between independent buildings, causing prices to drop.

        Instead prices went up as demand went down.

        That suggests collusion, a less then ideal market, ignorance on the part of lessees — or a combination of all three.

      2. John, do you know why the vacancy rate went up? Could it be because new units came on the market. These might be offered at higher than prevailing rents.

        Why don’t you give us a link to the P-I article so we are at least starting from the same place?

    2. The vacancy rate was low in the mid 2000s, then it went up in 2008 and 2009 due to the crash. It topped out and came down again in 2010 and 2011, which caused developers to start building apartments. Those will open in 2012 and 2013, presumably raising the vacancy rate. (But we don’t know what the economy will be like, which will affect demand for apartments.)

      If there’s an unexpected reversal at the moment, well, the P-I reporters don’t know why, and without concrete reasons it’s useless to speculate. It may be a short-term abnormality.

      Vacancies and rents in central Seattle are fairly “normal” right now. Landlords have pulled back from their 2009 discounts but not 100% up to the previous level, and some apartments are taking a month longer to fill. So demand is off a little bit it’s pretty close to normal.

      1. You also have to look at specific neighborhoods. Apartments aren’t being built everywhere in the region, most of them are in the center city, where vacancy rates have been very low compared to historical trends and other parts of the region.

      2. Useless to speculate…yes, agreed…so there’s no reason to expect it to go up when it’s going down.

        If I were to speculate, I’d say it’s yet more evidence for regional depopulation.

    3. One reason apartment vacancy rates are up is because developers are being forced by the stagnant real estate market to rent what were intended to be condos. As those are built to a much higher standard than buildings originally purposed as apartments it’s not surprising price and supply are up. When grocery stores added organic vegetables there was more stock on hand and a higher median price for any given product. The cost of the non-organic choice didn’t go down. Unlike vegetables housing doesn’t have a “sell by” date. Owners are willing to hold out for a higher price rather than maintain a lower vacancy rate when they feel that over time the additional income will outweigh the short term loss of revenue. Would you jump at the first job that paid $1,000 a week if you thought that by spending another month searching you could net $1,200 a week? Hint, at the end of a year you’d have made $7,600 more even though you were unemployed 8% of the year.

      1. Are “standard apartments” being built at all nowadays? They all seem to be built for future condo conversion.

  9. My biggest frustration with Seattle housing is the lack of larger apartments outside of luxury buildings. I wouldn’t mind living in an apartment if I could get a large 2 br. with a deck/patio and an in-unit washer/dryer for a reasonable price. Unfortunately such apartments tend to cost the same as a 2-3 br duplex, town home, or SF house in the same neighborhood.

    To that end I’m glad to see all of the new buildings going up in Seattle. The increased supply should drive prices down for the existing rental housing stock.

    In addition to relaxing parking requirements I’d like to see the land use regulations changed so we get more small apartment/condo buildings in L2 and L3 zones as opposed to all of the “4-pack” and “6-pack” town homes that have been built in those zones in recent years.

    In general small apartment buildings put more people on the same lot, engage the street better than 4-pack townhomes with little or no reduction in living space per unit.

    1. A large 2br with a deck and a washer/dryer *is* a luxury apartment. :)

      If you’re saying that you’d be happy with fewer building amenities for less money, that’s actually a very realistic option; just rent a condo from a private landlord.

      If you’re saying that you’d be happy with less-fancy interiors… well, so would many people. Granite countertops add a tiny amount of money to the construction cost for a building, but allow landlords to charge much higher rents.

      Personally, I’ve had no problem finding large apartments in older buildings. A washer/dryer does significantly inflate the price, but that’s mostly because only recently have developers started to put washers/dryers in individual units. Give it 10 years, and that won’t be a luxury anymore.

    2. My concern is that even if there is more apartment construction, the rents will stay more or less the same not only because of the need to reap the increased costs of construction, materials, etc, but also because there’s enough of a demand from primarily an IT and aerospace employment base capable of paying the higher rents.

      1. Neo-Realist,
        The thing is if the apartments aren’t built the rents will go up even further.

        Aleks,
        I suppose that could be considered a “luxury” apartment, but in-unit hookups have been fairly common for a while. It isn’t so much of a showstopper as long as there are machines in the building but it is on my wish list. I actually rank a dishwasher higher.

        I agree about nonsense like stainless steel appliances or granite counters. I don’t want to pay extra rent for either. Laminate floors and those smooth cooktops fall into the same category with the added bonus that they are stupidly easy to damage.

        I guess my real complaint is the apartments I’ve looked at that I really like tend to rent for the same as small houses in the same neighborhood.

        I’ve only seen one place I felt was a real bargain. It was in a 1920’s building and the rents were reasonable for the size of the units. But the units were a bit on the small side for my needs. The small outdated kitchens were another downside.

      2. Christopher, if they build more, I hope they build more apartments for low and middle income people with incentives and or public subsidies.

      3. I suppose that could be considered a “luxury” apartment, but in-unit hookups have been fairly common for a while.

        Really? In my apartment hunts (admittedly mostly in a limited area — Fremont, U-District, Ballard, CH), I’ve only seen in-unit hookups in buildings that were built or refurbished in 2000 or later. That just isn’t much of the housing stock.

        I guess my real complaint is the apartments I’ve looked at that I really like tend to rent for the same as small houses in the same neighborhood.

        It’s 100% about land prices. Compared to the market equilibrium, there is an excess of single-family zoning and a dearth of multi-family zoning. Thus, land zoned for single-family is cheaper than it should be, and land zoned for apartments is more expensive. And in turn, this drives the cost of apartments up, and the cost of houses down.

        In this respect, I completely agree with the content of Roger’s message, if not its delivery. The problem is too much regulation, not too little.

        Also, for what it’s worth, one of my “crazy ideas” is to change property taxes so that they consider only the value of land, rather than the value of improvements. The current tax system provides a disincentive to making the best use of land. Do you really think that Sisley (for example) would be so keen on leaving his property abandoned if he had to pay the same tax rate as if he built max-height apartments?

      4. Just another reason people move out to the ring suburbs. Land closer to the CBD is always going to be more expensive so even new apartments are going to be relatively smaller. Plus the less expensive in city apartments are going to be in buildings old enough that an in unit laundromat was never even considered. Business professionals dropped of their cloths to be cleaned and pressed. The urban environment is all about being out and about. Once “home” becomes where you sleep instead of a bar (Cheers!) people move out. It’s even more true today since the new economy jobs don’t require commuting into the city.

      5. Aleks,
        I’ve seen buildings built as far back as the 70’s with in-unit washer/dryer hookups, it seems to be fairly common in anything built/remodeled after 1990 or so. How common such things are in general does seem to vary a bit on what part of the city one is in. Though the oldest building I’ve seen where it appears both the dishwasher and the W/D hook-up have been there since the building was built (early 70’s) was on Capitol Hill. It WAS a luxury building when it was built, not so much anymore.

        In any case I’m trying to decide which factors I’m most willing to comprimise on in my next house. All things considered I’ll likely take a great location over space, cheap rent, a residential desert and poor transit access.

      6. Bernie,
        Been there done that, not planning on doing it again. I lived on Finn Hill for 3 years and hated the commute to work, the lack of walkablity, and the poor transit access.

        I can almost see myself living in/near downtown Bellevue or downtown Kirkland but for the price I’d rather live in Seattle.

        I’ll keep an eye out for Madrona while I’m looking. One huge issue for me is transit travel times. The 2 and the 3 are so slow you can almost get to Burien in the same amount of time.

      7. Aleks,
        Tell me about it. Much of the rental stock in the neighborhoods I’m looking in is SF homes (or illegal MIL/duplex conversions).

        I’m wondering if I should just give up, buy a car, and rent a house in Delridge. (I’d buy but I need to work on my savings and credit first)

      8. The urban environment is all about being out and about.

        Yes and no.

        Cities — at least the ones worth living in — are all about walkability and human-scale development. You can conduct your daily business on your own two feet.

        On an average day, here are some places that I might walk to:

        – Grocery store
        – Drugstore
        – Other stores (books, clothing, etc.)
        – Coffee shop / teahouse
        – Library
        – Restaurants
        – Medical/dental appointments

        In the suburbs, all of those would require driving.

        The only people who don’t go “out and about” are either farmers or shut-ins. Everyone else spends a non-negligible portion of their life somewhere other than home.

      9. I’m wondering if I should just give up, buy a car, and rent a house in Delridge.

        Life’s too short to live somewhere you don’t want to. :)

        I don’t know your budget, but have you looked at Alaska Junction? It seems like there are some pretty good deals there — still in a walkable neighborhood, but much cheaper (for newer housing stock) then you’d find in a “hipper” neighborhood.

    3. Some other cities have apartments as large as houses, with more than two bedrooms, but still stacked to capture the efficiencies of an apartment building. New York has the most publicized concentration of large apartments. Large apartments are necessary for families with more than one child, or with a mother-in-law living with them, and even some smaller families value an extra room, or need it for a home office. The market has definitely been emphasizing “one-bedroom or less, with a few two-bedroom units”. I assume it’s because they can get more rent with two smaller units than one large one. But it forces most families into single-family houses because they can’t find a large enough apartment.

      1. Some other cities have apartments as large as houses

        Yeah, for people like Bernie Madoff to live in. As the region grows Seattle is destined to become more like Manhatten. Density == higher cost of living because it’s just a much more energy intensive and costly proposition. Always has been, always will. Wealth is concentrated in the cities, not

      2. oops, clicked Post too soon… not in the suburbs. Although, Medina and Hunts isn’t exactly poor white trash I’d bet that why you factor in density Madrona has a higher assessed value per foot of water front.

        Madrona is one of Seattle’s best kept secrets. A relaxed, small town, Madrona is located to the west on Lake Washington, midway between State Route 520 and Interstate 90.

        Madrona is known as the ‘peaceable kingdom’ because it is so ethnically diverse. It is a place for lovers of nature and lovers of peace. A slow-lane kind of place where you can feel at home, even if it is your first visit.

    4. East Coast Cynic,
      I’m not sure how I feel about units with some sort of subsidy attached (either with actual tax dollars or by encouraging below-market rents on some units through incentive zoning).

      In the long run I think market rate units do the most to bring the overall cost of housing down (or at least keep it under control). Low income or workforce housing does very little for me as I make too much to qualify and I’m not likely looking at the same non-subsidized units someone who does would be.

      Which isn’t to say we don’t need both low income and workforce housing, but allowing it to crowd out market rate units would be just as much of a mistake as not building any at all.

      1. Low income and workforce housing shouldn’t crowd out market rate, but I’m afraid if we simply rely on market rate housing, there will be virtually none for the low income and workforce-the people besides yourself–incentive zoning would be a good thing to encourage them. A balance between those types would be better instead of one type overwhelming the others.

      2. The problem is in general things like incentive zoning mean there will be fewer market rate units built, and those market rate units will be more expensive than they would otherwise.

        Mind you I’m not opposed to low income or workforce housing, but I think the subsidy needs to have a broader base than the market rate units in the same development.

        In the long run the best way to ensure market rates come down is to drastically increase the supply of rentals.

    5. Take a look at the of apartments they offer in Kent…you will be surprised!

      I have a large 2Br with W/D and deck. All of that is standard here plus free parking (2 per tenant), club house, all day on site management (they will collect your Fedex packages).

      1. Sorry John. I don’t want to buy a car. I don’t want to commute that far.

        I also far prefer living somewhere within a 5-10 minute walk of a grocery store and a variety of restaurants, cafes, and bars. Kent East Hill really doesn’t meet my criteria there.

  10. One reason why 30% of income spent on housing is considered “cost-burdened” is the assumption that you have to allow enough money left over to pay for your car. In a transit-oriented neighborhood, the 30% threshold should increase because you afford can spend more money on housing, while still having an acceptable amount left over for food and entertainment.

    1. According to the data, over half of all very-low-income households are severely cost-burdened — meaning that over 50% of their income goes to housing.

      Even if your transportation costs are $0, 50% for housing is high. And there’s no evidence that transportation costs are $0 for these households. More likely, they live out in far-flung suburbs where housing is very cheap, but a car is necessary to get anywhere.

      There’s also the fact that low-paying jobs tend to be more decentralized. Local-government jobs, including teaching, are spread out almost by definition. The same goes for retail and other service-sector jobs.

      I totally agree with you that it’s important to consider housing and transportation together. There definitely are many individuals and households who would save money by moving to the city, even if they ended up paying more for housing. But for very low income households, that’s not enough.

      1. I’m startled to learn that, thanks to the high median income of the region, my household actually counts as both “Very Low Income” and “Severely Cost Burdened”. These terms have been defined VERY broadly, so as define a full fifth of the city’s households as VLI. Basically, the entirety of the foodservice and retail workforce, and anyone else who has only a high school diploma.

        I think very few of my coworkers would consider themselves unusually low income, and can guarantee none of them find spending 50% of your income on rent unusual.

        My rent is approximately 65% of our monthly income. I’ve shopped around for a comparable apartment to lower my rent, and suburban apartments are not really cheaper. I would have to either move north of Everett, or south of Kent to actually save any money compared to this cheap CD triplex. And then, of course, that brings in the whole transportation issue. No more running errands on foot, every trip would start costing me money.

        I think it’s too late to do anything about the rental problem now, though. This is an result of decades of restricting apartment building. We’re not going to see a solid affordable housing stock in the city until the current batch of new buildings have aged for a few decades, and only then if we keep expanding the rental stock in the meantime.

        In the meantime, an easy way to generate a bunch of low-end apartments is to either rezone vast swaths of SF into LR1, or start allowing duplexes in SF zones. Dividing existing houses into multiple apartments results in cheaper units than the ones in new construction.

        This city’s restrictions against multiplexes are pants-on-head retarded. If you renovate a home to include 10 bedrooms, and rent each bedroom out to a “roommate” (common practice), that’s ok and has no negative impact on the neighborhood. But somehow, if you split that same house down the middle and make two apartments out of it, the world will end.

      2. Lack,
        Wow your rent must be quite below-market if you have to go far north or far south to beat it.

        OTOH it puts my frustration a bit in perspective as I’m simply whining because I can’t find just the right rental, in just the right neighborhood, for dirt cheap.

      3. [Lack] It’s because people are afraid their free street parking will go away forever. They’d get rid of the roommate situation as well, if they could.

        Funny how little NIMBY tendencies, seemingly harmless at the street level, can affect so many when applied to an entire city.

        [Chris] What does “below market” mean?

    2. “In a transit-oriented neighborhood, the 30% threshold should increase because you afford can spend more money on housing”

      The 30% rate was set decades ago when gas was 20c a gallon, so I’m not sure if that’s true. My mom has been quoting the 30% rule since the 1970s (and she’s offended by the $550+ price of shoebox apartments now, with kitchen counters no larger than the sink). Certainly it’s better to look at housing + transportation combined, but whether that should be 50% or lower I’m not sure. At 50% you’re still not saving enough for old age.

  11. It sounds like we should focus on converting single-family lots to multifamily. That would increase the housing supply without knocking down older, inexpensive apartment buildings. Inexpensive houses don’t exist, so it wouldn’t make affordability worse. Seattle has so many single-family houses that only a tiny fraction of them would have to be converted to have a significant effect on availability. And plenty of homeowners and developers would be willing to participate because they’d get more money with a multifamily property. Of course, the blocks chosen to rezone should be near transit corridors and existing upzones, not just random.

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