Mike Rosenberg has another excellent piece in the Seattle Times, examining why housing construction in suburban King County has slowed while Seattle remains red-hot.
Overall, Seattle housing construction has grown 130 percent this decade compared to the average over the prior three decades, while housing development in the suburbs has dropped 43 percent from its historical average.
Add it all up and the county as a whole is actually on pace for a slight decline in the overall number of homes going up here this decade, despite Seattle’s building frenzy.
King County doesn’t have many large developable tracts of land left for single-family development, so developers have pushed into Snohomish and Pierce. But there’s plenty of opportunity for multifamily infill development.
As we’ve noted, some suburban cities are enacting development moratoria as they rewrite their zoning codes in the face of renewed growth. On the other end of the spectrum, Kenmore and Bothell are growing along the future 522 BRT corridor. Redmond is adding tons of new apartments in anticipation of light rail.
Despite all that growth, King County’s suburban cities still aren’t building nearly as much multifamily housing as they were in the 1980s and 1990s, according to the article. As we’ve covered, growth is centralizing in Seattle and Bellevue, despite the PSRC’s plans to put more people and jobs in farther-flung suburbs.
With greenfield land running out, the next step – short of expanding the urban growth boundary – is to figure out how to do missing middle-style infill in the inner-ring suburbs. That’s no small challenge given the preponderance of cul-de-sacs, lack of sidewalks, and infrequent transit service. Fortunately light rail is coming, along with improved bus service, and there is no shortage of ideas on how to retrofit suburbia.
Suburban retrofits, however, require political will and currently there’s no political appetite for increasing density in single-family neighborhoods among Eastside electeds (there’s barely appetite for it in Seattle!). Nonetheless, more infill in the suburbs would be a huge win for regional equity. Adding housing capacity in these amenity-rich single-family neighborhoods (where zoning typically maxes out at just 3-5 units per acre) will make them more attractive to a new generation that wants more transportation options than the Eastside’s strip mall-centric built environment can currently provide, while relieving development pressures on lower-income neighborhoods in places like Seattle.