West Seattle - east side of California Ave looking north, south of The Junction 01

Last month’s Times story that rents are dropping in West Seattle ($) since the bridge closed spurs two thoughts.

There’s something honorable about journalism that always tries to find the person who is hurt in any change to the status quo, so that readers can understand the human costs. But there’s also something perverse about spending years lamenting the “crisis” in housing affordability, and then went rent falls, centering the losses of the poor, poor landlords.

“In my 30 years of owning buildings, I’ve never experienced what I’m experiencing in West Seattle,” said landlord Morris Groberman, who owns four buildings in West Seattle and several dozen other apartments across the region. “It’s absolutely bleak.”

Relatedly, the easiest way to keep rent affordable and avoid “gentrification” is to not improve the neighborhood. A place with good transportation options, good schools, good jobs, and minimal crime is going to attract newcomers in a context of overall population growth. To avoid the tragedy of displacing people already there, there will either have to be deteriorating conditions or more housing. Personally, I prefer the latter.

60 Replies to “All news is bad news”

  1. The flip side is that someone looking to invest in West Seattle real estate can presumably buy up properties on the cheap, with plans to raise rents in a few years, once the bridge is repaired/replaced.

    1. Which brings up another point. If you own the property you live on you’re likely richly rewarded for being displaced. But if you’re a renter your just screwed. There’s more to moving to the suburbs (or exurbs now) than just a back yard for the dog. If you buy instead of rent your much more likely to be setting yourself up for long term financial stability. You can rent a place to live or you can rent money (a mortgage) and the end result in 30 years is pretty stunning.

      1. Almost always – renting doesn’t make sense longer than 3 years.

        If you want to stay in the area, you really have no choice.

      2. RossB. All you are buying with that link is the trailer. Mobile homes are generally, almost universally, a bad investment. Assuming you can even get a loan it will be much higher than for a house and you’re stuck paying $1,200 per month (now) to rent the space. Using the Redfin estimated payment that puts your out of packet at $1440/mo. Using the old 1/3 rule of thumb with an income of $40,000 you would qualify for just over $1,100. I know it’s crazy but lenders don’t care if you’ve been dutifully making rent payments that are more than that.

        Because of the rental this mobile is actually a terrible value. With that $1,100 on a condo, assuming you could come up with say 10% down (which is almost a minimum in this market) you could buy a $170,000 unit. Searching for that I find one listing, a 582 sqft 1 bdrm in Burien for $155k. Of course you only need one but hunting and making a successful offer is going to be a tuff slog.

        Unless you’ve got a combined income in the 6 digits buying your first home in Seattle probably isn’t going to happen.

      3. Yes, but some people are very adverse to long-term debt, or hoping they’ll always have a good-paying job for thirty years so they won’t get foreclosed. There’s a sense of freedom of having savings instead of long-term debt. And if you’re lucky in investments you can make as much as you would when you sell the house, or more. Several of my relatives have lost money in real-estate crashes, or they sold a few years before house prices skyrocketed. And there’s the risk that if the house becomes uninhabitable if insurance doesn’t cover it due to some loophole or scam, or you want to move from a recently-depressed area you may lose much of your investment. In the meantime you could keep what would have been a down payment in cash or investments, and then it’s available if you need it or want it, and you’re not paying interest to a finance company (which is distatsteful at minimum).

        The risk for long-term renters is that rents or inflation may eventually rise to the point you can’t live in your desired city anymore, or anywhere other than a homeless shelter. The US situation is getting very disturbing, as underbuilding and restrictive zoning is causing affordability problems not just in the popular coastal cities but has spread to most suburbs and towns and rural areas, with the only exceptions being depressed areas, areas where the population is shrinking, and areas that let runaway sprawl absorb the demand.

        There’s also an issue with long-term planning. I’m not sure how you plan to live in an apartment when you retire if you don’t have a million dollars’ savings, or if you have to go to a nursing home ($70K/year), or how you plan to die in a rental when you don’t have somebody to take your things away and wind down your lease.

      4. “You can always buy a condo.”

        You could always buy a condo. When condos first appeared in the 80s they were under $50K, much cheaper than a house. In the early 2000s they were still $100-200K, and a modest middle-class income could pay them off in 5-10 years. But now they’re going for $400K, $550K, or close to a million — more than houses cost in the early 2000s, and salaries haven’t kept up. The only way they’re a bargain is houses are even more expensive and out of reach — although oddly some condos cost as much as some houses.

      5. Mobile homes are generally, almost universally, a bad investment.

        But they are often an affordable place to live. That particular place, because it is in a prime location, has a very expensive rental charge. Having known someone who have lived in mobile homes in the boonies, their total cost (house + rent) was a lot less. I’m not saying I would choose it as an option, but it was a good choice for the guy. He didn’t leave much to his heirs, but he didn’t have much to begin with. It was probably the cheapest choice he had (to live in the Puget Sound area) for the last ten years of his life.

        In general, the problem is that as you get further out (where land is cheap) the number of condos go down (and they are usually in prime locations — like North Tacoma, with a view). For a brief period after the housing crash, there were lots of condos down by the airport which you could get for 30 grand or so, but those days are gone.

        In both cases (condos and a trailer in a mobile home park) you need to look at the HOA fees, as well as possible increases in them.

      6. some condos cost as much as some houses

        There is some overlap, but for the most part, condos are much cheaper. Look at the number of condos in Seattle for under $300K: https://www.redfin.com/city/16163/WA/Seattle/filter/property-type=condo,max-price=300k. Not a lot, but enough to where you can probably find one with a decent HOA fee. Now look at the number of houses: https://www.redfin.com/city/16163/WA/Seattle/filter/property-type=house,max-price=300k. Only three, and they are all in the south end. If you need to live in the north, you are way better off looking at condos. That is pretty much true if you are looking at places under 400 grand as well.

      7. “a decent HOA fee”

        That’s another beef I have with condos. My whole purpose in buying one would be to eventually pay it off and then when my income is lower have only the low property tax. But when monthly homeowners’ fees cost as much as half a month’s rent, it puts that strategy into question.

      8. some people are very adverse to long-term debt,… if you’re lucky in investments you can make as much as you would when you sell the house
        Risk adverse people aren’t likely to dance with lady luck in the stock market. More likely any savings they accrue end up in bonds (or worse, bond funds) that never quite match inflation. You have to live somewhere which means investing in yourself or handing over ever increasing amounts to a landlord. If you just break even on a house over 30 years (i.e. keep pace with inflation) you’ve banked 30 years of rent payments. Owning free and clear is a huge financial boost over paying rent when you’re retired.

        Generally you can own for less out of pocket than renting. Think about it, the landlord has to make a profit on the asset. But the real kicker is the mortgage deduction which is like a rent rebate every money you’re in the home. It doesn’t take long before you’ve saved more than the down payment. Or if you’ve got VA benefits you can opt for a zero down loan. There’s tons of other programs through agencies like HUD. The only guarantee is that if you rent for 30 years you will have zero equity.

      9. Ross, that ridiculously low price for the mobile home almost guarantees that the land under it will soon be occupied by a permanent dwelling. It would probably cost 10K to move it, to who knows where, if a place can be found anywhere in King County. It’s not a genuine alternative for someone wanting to stay in Seattle.

        Martin is cross today.

      10. If you live in a condo and look at the HOA’s budget, you’ll see that a lot of your dues is paying for things where, if you lived in a single-family home, you’d have to pay for anyway, just separately. For example, my HOA does includes water, sewer, and garbage service, lawn mowing/landscaping, plus most of the building’s insurance (which makes my personal insurance policy much cheaper than it would be without an HOA). The HOA also puts money into reserves every month that occasionally get spent in larger upkeep items, such as repainting or (in my case) roof replacement. These are all things that you have to pay for to maintain a house anyway, with or without an HOA. Of course, al HOA’s do have some avoidable operating overhead, such as the management fees for the company that collects the dues, but that’s a relatively small portion of what you way each month.

        Point being – don’t assume that just because you don’t have an HOA that owning a home means only paying the mortgage and property taxes and nothing else. You still have to have utilities and insurance, and you still have to pay to maintain the place.

      11. asdf2 lays out the case for HOA dues very well. You can think of it as an insurance policy when it comes to repairs, like a new roof. You pay a set amount every month instead of being blindsided by a repair you can’t afford. But like anything, Caveat Emptor. Some condos have a low purchase price and astronomical HOA dues because there’s a looming structural deficit; poorly install Dryvit or LP siding for example that have resulted in structural or mold problems. The other thing to look for is how well does the HOA function. You want to make sure you’re not buying into a blood fued. Overall though, it’s easier to research this and mitigate risk than buying a single family home; especially and older home that might/probably has asbestos and lead paint. Not to mention homeowner “remodels” that weren’t permitted and don’t meet code.

      12. Ross, that ridiculously low price for the mobile home almost guarantees that the land under it will soon be occupied by a permanent dwelling.
        Actually, there’s fairly strong legal protections that prevent Mobile Home Park owners from pulling the rug out overnight. The land owner is required to pay for relocation and rather than get in a legal pissing match what usually happens is owners are offered a fair buyout price. That said, it’s still a bad value since there will be nothing but depreciation on the trailer, the owner is on the hook for repairs, energy and safety suck. In short, what you own is a liability.

        Mobile homes are OK when they allow you to live on rural property for cheap. A lot of people buy their 5 acre hobby farm and start out with a mobile while saving money to build their dream home. The other use I’ve seen is what RossB highlighted where an older person puts or buys a single wide on property and lives out their days. Other developments preclude replacing a mobile with a structure on foundation. Cheap but your upside potential is extremely limited. But there are good communities where this offers an affordable alternative. Still other more “exclusive” tracts don’t allow mobile homes, no how no way.

      13. Yeah, there are tradeoffs of HOA vs. no HOA.

        Advantages of an HOA include having somebody else take care of the building’s maintenance work (e.g. find a contractor to replace the roof) so you don’t have to deal with it. There is also often cost savings of having a contractor do work on a whole bunch of units at works, allowing major projects, such as roof replacement, to cost substantially less per unit than what you pay on a single-family home. You also get money in the reserves the moment you buy the place, which can be used for unexpected repairs. Also, when choose where to buy, you can see the condo’s full history of board meetings and HOA budgets and get a good idea what shape the building is in. An HOA can also sometimes provide amenities, such as a private playground or swimming pool, which is far cheaper when the cost is split with 50 other units vs. paying for the whole thing yourself.

        Disadvantages of an HOA include being forced to spend money on the HOA’s administrative overhead (e.g. keeping track of who owes what in dues/tax preparation/etc.), as well as loss of control. For example, you might be forced to pay (through your dues) for amenities you don’t need or use, and decisions about the overall management of the building are made by group consensus, which you might or might not agree with. This might mean having an exterior wall painted blue when you prefer grey, or using a different contractor to repair a garage door than you might like. HOA’s also impose rules on the owners which you might or might not agree with. For example, they might prevent you from storing a bike on your balcony or a boat in your extra parking space. It is also common for HOA’s to impose restrictions on your right to rent out your unit.

        And you definitely need to pay attention when you buy to not only the current dues, but also the state of the HOA’s budget, to try to gauge the liklihood of future dues increases and/or special assessments. Some condos are much better than others at spending money efficiently; the two times I went condo shopping, I definitely looked at the monthly dues and sought to minimize it, provided that the association’s finances looked realistic and the lower dues likely to continue. In general, it is better to take a higher purchase price spend money on your mortgage payment vs. spend the same money on higher dues since, unlike HOA dues, mortgage payments have some chance of being lowered through refinancing or payoff, plus mortgage interest is tax-deductible.

      14. @asdf2
        Nailed it! There’s good and bad condo buys and all of what should be considered you laid out in detail, For someone (with the means) that wants to live in the city a smart condo purchase as a first home makes infinite sense.

      15. Seriously, renting in the suburbs/exurbs nowadays is less about “a yard for the dog” and more about “a 1 bedroom apartment that I can actually afford.” So many new apartment complexes going up–even as far out as Marysville and Arlington! And 100% car dependent. The houses that are being developed tend to be townhouses or zero lot line homes. You have to go *way* out until you hit newer subdivisions with substantially sized yards. We’ve simply ran out of space, and in order to grow it’s time to increase density in Town, whether the Boomers like it or not.

  2. Real flip side is the thousands of fine young people who by virtue of their eighteenth birthday will for the first time be able not only to vote, but also run for office in the State Legislature this Fall.

    Making it transit’s duty to see to it that they see it as something of theirs, to ride and to run and to own. Also to make sure that the workers at the steering wheels, train-controllers, supervisory posts, and communications have the wherewithal they need to bring their own excellent quality to bear.

    This morning’s posting, only thing wrong is the headline, but none of us can be blamed for getting up on the wrong side of the bed now and then. The sun’s out, and the day is yet young

    Mark Dublin

  3. To avoid the tragedy of displacing people already there, there will either have to be deteriorating conditions or more housing. Personally, I prefer the latter.
    “That trick never works!” The housing that gets build is always upscale from what it replaces. As you say, “A place with good transportation options, good schools, good jobs, and minimal crime is going to attract newcomers” and that’s going to drive up the cost of housing even if it’s just cleaning up or renovating existing buildings. Regionally more units helps curb the rate of increase in housing cost but the displacement still occurs and overall rents will go up. The best situation is wages also increase for low salary workers and public transportation options help those displaced.

    Bottom line, the easier it is for developers to come in and bulldoze old buildings the faster the rate of displacement. If you put limits on new development costs still go up (cleaner, better transportation, good schools) but not as much and you keep neighborhood character. People moving to the area will pay more to live in the deluxe new units elsewhere.

      1. Yep, there’s no shortage of upscale housing being built both inside the Seattle City limits and “elsewhere” like Bellevue, Totem Lake and DT Kirkland. One neighborhood that seems to be keeping it’s character is Beacon Hill.

      2. That “character” is what limits the number of people who can live near Beacon Hill Station and drives up the prices. Lowrise, vertically-oriented prewar construction is beautiful.

      3. Certainly limits the number of people that can live close to the underground art museum. But for the people that can housing is way cheaper than it will be when high rise condos take over.

      4. Highrise condos wouldn’t take over. If you upzoned all of east and southeast Seattle or the entire city like First Hill, the result wouldn’t be wall-to-wall condo towers, because the market for condo towers would be saturated long before that. There would be some condo towers and more in-between things. And it would give opportunities to a wider range of developers, including smaller ones and mom-n-pop homeowners, who would target different sizes and different price points, that they can’t do now because they’re outbid by large developers in the few areas where multifamily and attached construction is allowed.

      1. The article leads with Houston, the capital of sprawl. It starts with one claim that’s false about Japan; it’s population is declining not increasing. It’s also aging which means a larger percentage already own homes. Rural areas are particularly hard hit and there’s essentially a homestead movement to try and preserve some rural communities. The Covid pandemic has accelerated a move out of the city (I watch a lot of NHK). Technology and a fantastic train system make this easier.

        Japanese are traditionally used to living in much smaller spaces which does of course reduce total cost. You can rent an 82 sqft apartment for $600/mo. $600/mo is cheap but for $900/mo you can rent a studio in Wedgewood that’s a spacious 150 sqft. That’s $7/sqft in Tokyo vs $6/sqft in Seattle.

      2. Neither Toko or Seattle make the list of most expensive cities. A surprise to me was that according to the list from Insider #11 is Victoria BC and Vancouver comes in #2 right behind her sister city Hong Kong. If the price of housing in Hong Kong plunges (as it could easily do with the current political situation) Vancouver takes over the top spot. Another surprise was New York didn’t make the list but that likely represents the huge disparity between the boroughs.

      3. But Seattle is among the top ten most expensive in the US, and that’s what matters for those who don’t plan to move to Japan. New York probably was the most expensive until extreme escalation in San Francisco and San Jose overtook it. New York City still allows more infill development, more midrise/highrise buildings, and smaller units than Bay Area cities do, so it’s more able to absorb the periodic population increases.

      4. The article leads with Houston, the capital of sprawl.

        Irrelevant. The point is that allowing more housing reduces housing prices (contrary to your claim).

        It starts with one claim that’s false about Japan; it’s population is declining not increasing.

        Bullshit. It never said such a thing. It said Tokyo is growing, which is true. https://www.macrotrends.net/cities/21671/tokyo/population. This is in contrast to New York City, which is far more flat, and went down last year (https://worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities/new-york-city-ny-population). This explains why New York City is such a cheap place to live. Oh, wait.

        It’s also aging which means a larger percentage already own homes.

        Wait, what? Why would that contribute to lower housing prices? If lots of people already own their homes, wouldn’t that contribute to *higher* prices? One of the many reasons why Seattle has high housing prices is because we have lots of old people who bought their homes a while ago, and are in no mood to sell. Even if they sit on big lots that can be subdivided, or converted to apartments, they aren’t moving.

        Oh, and I can’t find the current statistics for home ownership in Tokyo. Where exactly are you getting this data — out of your ass?

        The simple fact is that both renting and owning a home in Tokyo is relatively cheap. Not as cheap as in Omaha, or East Saint Louis, but cheaper, then, well, West Seattle. Imagine if you could buy a house like this in West Seattle, or Northgate, or even Shoreline for 300 grand: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGbC5j4pG9w. It is a different world, and it is due entirely to different policies: https://www.citymetric.com/fabric/tokyo-proves-housing-shortages-are-political-choice-4623.

        This always happens. It doesn’t matter the subject. Fifty years ago, the average American lived a much better life than the average Swede. No one said “it is the water”, or “it is because of the bountiful natural resources”. No, they said it was because we just knew what to do. We patted ourselves on the back for figuring out this governing thing, and went about our business.

        Now, of course, the average Swede lives a better life. Some people say the same thing (the Swedes have better policies) but of course, there are others who find excuses. “It is because the Swedes are more homogeneous”, which of course, is no longer true, and never held us back. Maybe it is the cold weather. Maybe it is the shoes. No, Morris, it isn’t the shoes — it is the policies.

        [Sorry if that reference means nothing to non-basketball fans, but there was a series of commercials for Air Jordan’s produced by none other than Spike Lee, where he borrowed a character from She’s Gotta Have It to promote the sneakers. ]

        The point being that cities that have policies that promote more housing growth have (relatively) low housing prices. Cities that don’t, don’t.

      5. Mike, which list are you looking at? Investopedia, doesn’t have Seattle on the list but it puts NY at #1 and claims world wide Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Singapore are the most expensive. Money doesn’t put in in the top 10; but Boulder CO sneaks in. Business insider put Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue at #14. On Yahoo Finance Seattle slots in at #5 sandwiched by Brooklyn and D.C. and ahead of Boston which doesn’t occur on any other list I’ve seen. Obviously there is a broad definition of expense and how a geographic area is defined. It’s important to know if median wage is factored in. Cities like Juno and Anchorage appear high on some lists but that probably doesn’t account for the wage boost for being willing to live there and low/no tax rate in AK. Want free college tuition, become an AK state resident.

      6. “A recent study by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which included a group of academics and city officials, estimated the population of Tokyo in 2100. The group estimates that Tokyo’s population will be just 7.13 million, compared to 13.16 million as of the 2010 census.”

        According to current news stories on NHK the number of people moving out of metropolitan areas is increasing since the pandemic. But from Tokyo you can be within a hour or two of the central city even if you’re in the boonies thanks to their world class passenger rail systems. So it’s different than moving from Seattle to Cle Elm and vastly different than moving to Livingston MT.

        FWIW, the house in the YouTube video is in Edogawa; 30-45 minutes by train from DT. Tokyo (the 23 Wards) covers 1,500 sq mi, Seattle, is less than 1/10 that size. All of King County is 2,300 sq mi. So you have to expand the search from West Seattle. But again. Japanese homes are much smaller than what we expect in the US which makes them cheaper to own. The video also talks about real estate prices never rebounding since the crash in 2007 and how the declining population has factored in. In short, prices aren’t being driven up by speculation because the long term prospects are flat to declining.

      7. Seattle, is less than 1/10 that size. All of King County is 2,300 sq mi. So you have to expand the search from West Seattle. But again. Japanese homes are much smaller than what we expect in the US which makes them cheaper to own.

        Oooh, Oooh, you are starting to figure it out. OK, two points here. Tokyo is massive. It dwarfs Seattle. And yet, despite its massive size, you can get a nice house about 7 miles from the center of the city for around 300 grand. This is astonishing. This is roughly as far away as Northgate. Yet a city that dwarfs that of Seattle, with massive employment and massive demand for housing, still manages to have affordable housing just 7 miles from the center of the largest, most popular city on the planet.

        How do the do that? You guessed it — the houses are smaller! Oh My God! They build smaller houses! Who woulda thunkit. If you build smaller places to live, you can build more places to live, which in turn means the places are affordable. Well golly gee, what a revelation.

        That’s the point. This is a small house. It is an excellent house. It is a house that in Northgate, Shoreline, Lake City, Kirkland, Bellevue, Factoria, Renton or even freakin’ Skyway would cost way more than that. Even in areas that have a lot more crime, and suffer from the American fondness for poverty and stratification have nowhere near as affordable houses. Because, simply put, there aren’t enough of them. Imagine a million houses like that, in the greater Seattle area. Houses like that — which cost no more to build there than here suddenly become a lot more affordable. To many, that is a dream house. To many, it would change their life.

        But it isn’t just the houses. Because close to the houses, there are apartments. Some are big, some are small. But there a ton of them. Which means that while some people buy houses, a lot of other people just live in the apartments, knowing full well that the government will let people build enough domiciles to make living in the city affordable. That isn’t the case in America, because of the stupid, historically racist, definitely classist, zoning regulations.

        Happy Fourth, y’all!

      8. Yes, it’s no revelation that less costs, er… less. There’s very few people raised in the bigger is better culture of America that would put up with what the Japanese consider normal. They drive K cars and we prefer SUVs. All the video gave was the time to commute by train and I couldn’t find a scale on the map. The area reminds me a lot of Kent. That is, fertile river delta that has lots of low rise development which displaced agriculture. Yes, Kent has a lot more warehouses. Tokyo seems like LA with trains instead of just freeways. The trains as built by Japan are the clear winner but they’ve built lots of roads too including one elevated expressway that covers a river.

        The video was very enlightening. If Seattle housing prices never recovered from the lows following the bust in 2007 we’ d be the model for smart zoning? And it pointed out the reason it hasn’t blown another bubble (and I believe a bubble is the case in Seattle) is because the prices aren’t driven by speculation. The reason for the lack of speculators is because given the declining population and by all Japanese accounts, the population of Tokyo has peaked. Japan, unlike most western countries that have declining birth rates doesn’t let in a lot of foreigners; which is killing them in terms of global competitiveness. What’s happened in Vancouver is the polar opposite. The first wave of Hong Kong money poured in after the handover by the British (Hong Kong was part of the Commonwealth). Now we’re seeing the second wave where Hong Kong cash is pouring into the Vancouver market by the hockey bag full as a hedge against what China may do.

      9. There’s very few people raised in the bigger is better culture of America that would put up with what the Japanese consider normal.

        Hogwash. In New York you have strangers sharing studio apartments. People buy cheap trailers in Fife, and live isolated from their friends and family not because they want the space, but because alternatives are more expensive. In much of the country, you have people living out of their cars. Yes, much of it is because of poverty, but a lot of it is because cheap housing is not available where they are.

        Here is a house for a little more money — it costs 400 grand. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jv6SbFlZMbU. My God, that is a dream house for many. It is a four bedroom, two bath house with a large living room, and toilets that don’t require toilet paper. It is skinny — it doesn’t sit on much land — but you are delusional if you think a house like that wouldn’t sell.

        That house is a stand-alone house for about $400K. Go ahead and pull up Redfin, and look for 3 bedroom stand alone in Seattle under $500K. For that matter, include townhouses, even though they often involve an HOA.
        There aren’t any! This is a house that would go for $800K anywhere in Seattle.

        It is not because of speculation — it is because of zoning. Here, let me show you an example, in my neighborhood (Pinehurst). Keep in mind, Pinehurst is nothing special. It isn’t Capitol Hill — there is no view — it isn’t especially close to anything. Here are three houses built about five years ago: https://goo.gl/maps/PsZCxXjR2UXzYaEL6. The developer bought up a very big lot that had one old house on it. They bulldozed the house, and then built those three houses that cost $1.2 million a piece. So, that is a gross of $3.6 million.

        Now imagine if they developer built houses like the ones shown. You could easily fit a dozen of those houses on those three lots. Imagine if you sold those houses for $400K a piece. That is $4.8 million, or $1.2 million more than the three big houses. It might cost a bit more to build more houses, but not a million dollars more. Nor would those houses go for under 400K (they would likely go for over 600K).

        So why didn’t the developer build more houses? Because it would be against the law. It would be illegal to build more, because lots sizes are limited. They split the lots into as many as they could (three).

        It all goes together. The reason that Tokyo houses are cheape is because they don’t use much land, and there is simply more housing in Tokyo. Not more land, more housing. The reason there is more housing is because it is legal to build it there.

      10. The reason for the lack of speculators is because given the declining population and by all Japanese accounts, the population of Tokyo has peaked.

        You are obviously confused. Tokyo is the most popular city on earth. Housing demand there exceeds just about any place on earth. Seattle, in comparison, is a second rate city, with much tinier housing demand. But Seattle, of course, has much lower supply.

        Yet you keep bringing up erroneous issues that I keep disproving. The video was made long before the pandemic. Tokyo is not shrinking — Japan is. Tokyo has grown faster than just about any city — much faster than say, New York City. Meanwhile, New York State — like Japan, is shrinking. Yet housing prices in New York City exceed Tokyo. Immigration is increasing in Japan — there are around 2.3 million currently. Over 40% of them live in the Tokyo area. That means roughly a million immigrants live in the Tokyo area — can you say that about Seattle? Of course not.

        The fact that Seattle prices exceed Tokyo prices is insane, really. Seattle is a small, second-rate city. I know it seems like “everyone wants to move here” but they don’t. Not like Tokyo.

        According to your theories, land prices must be dropping in Tokyo. Except they aren’t: https://www.statista.com/statistics/875736/japan-average-land-price-tokyo/. This really lies at the heart of your confusion. Land is really expensive in Tokyo (way more expensive than Seattle). But housing is cheaper in Tokyo. That is because Tokyo builds lots of housing. Just to quote one article:

        In 2014, Tokyo issued permits for 142,417 new housing units. In contrast, the entire state of California — which has three times the population of Tokyo — issued permits for only 83,657 new housing units.

        Or consider this article (https://www.wsj.com/articles/what-housing-crisis-in-japan-home-prices-stay-flat-11554210002) from the The Wall Street Journal, which summarizes it nicely (you don’t even need to have a subscription to get the gist of it):

        In the past two decades, home prices in some leading North American and European cities have skyrocketed. In Tokyo, however, they’ve flatlined.

        So why no affordable-housing crisis in Japan? A big factor, experts say, is the country’s relatively deregulated housing policies, which have allowed housing supply to keep up with demand in the 21st century.

        Hmmm, who to believe. Experts cited by a well respected journal, or someone who doesn’t even bother to fact check their cockamamie theories. I think I’ll go with WSJ on this one.

      11. Tokyo has a third the population of California? Ayayay! How many Los Angeleses is that?

        Other videos on Japan I’ve seen say it has a nationwide zoning policy, so cities can’t compete against each other or exclude things for parochial reasons. The levels are cumulative, so each level allows everything the levels below it allow. Houses are allowed on small, irregularly-shaped scrap parcels that are considered too small here. One architect built himself a multistory house on such a parcel.

    1. “The housing that gets build is always upscale from what it replaces. As you say, “A place with good transportation options, good schools, good jobs, and minimal crime is going to attract newcomers” and that’s going to drive up the cost of housing”

      That’s true in individual lots but on a citywide/regionwide scale it’s only due artificial scarcity and the wide inequality between neighborhoods. If zoning is permissive and allows a full range of housing types, then fewer people will compete for each unit and prices will rise slowly or not at all. Developers will still build if the conditions are right, because they’re still guaranteed a steady profit, and even if the hedge-fund developers go away, smaller/more local ones will take their place. Germany has statewide rent control in all its states, at a level that ensures a modest steady profit, and it still has willing developers.

      The disparity in neighborhoods is another issue. There’s only one Space Needle and historic Pike/Pine nightlife area, so some people will pay a premium to live near them. But there’s no reason other neighborhoods can’t be as walkable as Pike/Pine and have a sufficient variety of businesses to meet most of people’s everyday needs. But only 10% of Pugetopolis’ neighborhoods are like that, so people who want those things — or want to get around conveniently without a car/uber — squeeze into those 10% of neighborhoods and drive the prices up. If the city/county would only see what’s successful and build more of those neighborhoods, there would be more choices where to live, and there wouldn’t be so much upward pressure on prices.

      The reason the only housing that’s being built is luxury housing is that developers are skimming the cream of the crop and ignoring everything else. And because they can build multifamily buildings in only 30% of the land and row houses in only a bit more, so large and small developers compete for that 30% of land. The 70% that’s single-family already has houses and residents in them, so there’s not much opportunity except to make the houses bigger and more luxurious. Also, zoning prohibits the “missing middle” gap between single-family houses and large apartment buildings, so mid-century small apartment buildings and dingbats and microapartments and SROs can’t be built. The people who would build those small buildings are smaller/local developers, but they can’t build on 70% of the land or build small buildings, and they’re outcompeted by hedge-fund developers on the relatively few multifamily lots available.

      1. The reason the only housing that’s being built is luxury housing is that developers are skimming the cream of the crop and ignoring everything else.

        Yes, and that is because they are prevented — by law — from building anything else in *most* of the city. (See the last four paragraphs of this comment: https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2020/07/04/all-news-is-bad-news/#comment-852296). Any house on a huge lot will sell for a bunch. If you prevent small lots, apartments, or row houses on those lots, then the builder will do what makes financial sense: build a huge house.

        That is because — and this is critical — housing construction is not that expensive. It doesn’t cost that much more to build a huge house, versus a small house. It also doesn’t cost that much to build lots of small houses (or an apartment) instead of one big house. This wasn’t always the case, but it is the case now.

        What the owners are paying for is essentially that huge lot, whether they want it or not. Even those huge, massive houses would fit on smaller lots — yet by law, the builder can’t do that. It is land that is extremely expensive in this city, and yet because of outdated, classist, and historically racist policies, they are forced to pay for a bunch of land, or forced to pay a huge amount for one of the few places that that allow a decent home to land ratio.

    2. Isn’t this the case in large part because “upzoning” means allowing high rises in concentrated urban villages, as opposed to say 4 plexes and midrise housing throughout? Setting parking minimums such that a multi floor garage is needed to build any substantial density isn’t helping either. Basically, if you’re only upzoning where the land beneath a single family home would sell for over a million, and you require a multi level garage structure (vs. 1 floor ground level or no on site parking) what do you really expect to happen? Is this a case of ” this trick doesn’t work,” or is it more of an engineered outcome?

  4. In my 30 years of owning buildings, I’ve never experienced what I’m experiencing in West Seattle,” said landlord Morris Groberman
    I’d have to go back to the property records but I’m pretty sure there was a much steeper drop in the value (purchase price) during the great recession. And unless West Seattle truly is an anomaly I suspect the price of property is still rising like it is for the rest of the region. So what Mr. Groberman is seeing is a short term increase in vacancy rates which makes perfect sense. The advantage of renting is you can pick up and move whenever your lease is up. So people making decisions now are looking at a minimum 2-5 year wait depending on if they repair or replace the bridge and probably 6 months to a year to see what commuting will be like once things return to the “new normal”. There’s no reason to take the risk of moving to W. Seattle right now unless rents are substantially lower.

    1. I hope that there’s an increasing movement to both live and work in West Seattle, so that the bridge and having 4-6 lanes for cars becomes less of a hot issue.

      1. I don’t see where there would be an increasing movement to live and work in West Seattle outside of wishful thinking: The absence of high bridge and the uncertainty as to whether it will be replaced, or not should, understandably, discourage people from moving to the peninsula (and encourage some to leave), particularly if they have employment far from West Seattle, e.g., Eastside, Snohomish County. Furthermore, West Seattle is not a huge jobs magnet – small and big box retail and not much else for crucial job/career opportunities.

        Until a decision is made to rebuild the bridge, I don’t believe there will be much incentive for people to move here.

      2. I think it is highly likely that they will rebuild the bridge. West Seattle will be back to what it was before. A largely suburban area connected to the main city by a bridge that allows very fast travel by car or bus.

      3. West Seattle could make itself into a place with local jobs beyond retail and people wanting to both work and live there. It hasn’t happened because the business leaders and residents haven’t prioritized it and marketed it. Some people are only interested in the high-paying jobs downtown and in the Eastside and move to West Seattle expecting to commute to those. But there could be other people and companies and industry niches that can be self-conained in West Seattle, especially those that don’t require the rest of the region to come to them in person.

      4. “West Seattle is not a huge jobs magnet”

        We don’t want companies that have a lot of people reverse-commuting to West Seattle. That has the same problem as people commuting from West Seattle to everywhere else.

      5. Work where in West Seattle?

        Well there is the port, and the college, as well as a few nursing homes, clinics, retail and lots of automobile related businesses. Oh, and the steel mill.

        But yeah, in general West Seattle employment is not that different than say, Magnolia (and well below, say, Ballard). West Seattle in general is a very traditional suburban place, despite being fairly close to the core. Some of that is no doubt due to the fact that like a traditional suburb, almost everyone gets to and fro via a car (or bus). Very few people walk to a different neighborhood. The Duwamish (and the industry around it) is a huge barrier. I doubt there are very many two income households where both work in West Seattle. This is different than say, Everett.

        We don’t want companies that have a lot of people reverse-commuting to West Seattle. That has the same problem as people commuting from West Seattle to everywhere else.

        I think in general it is best if employment is concentrated into a central core, like downtown Seattle. Second best is probably a handful of well connected areas, like downtown Seattle, downtown Bellevue and the UW. Ideally the jobs would go there.

        But if not, then West Seattle is much better than say, Lynnwood. Lynnwood is a suburb, and lots of suburban land lies to the south. Just about anyone living north of the ship canal would prefer driving, simply because traffic during rush hour is not a problem. That would continue until, like the East Side, traffic becomes a problem (which means lots of additional cars on the road, regardless of the quality of transit).

        In contrast, West Seattle already has very good transit, and someone from the north is likely to take the bus, just to avoid driving through downtown Seattle and because the total trip time wouldn’t be that large (getting to West Seattle is fast). Someone from Burien (or places south) might drive, but that is a relatively small group of people.

        I guess my point is, I would rather see employment in West Seattle grow, versus grow in places like Lynnwood, simply because West Seattle employment would result in fewer cars on the road.

        Interestingly enough, this is the case before and after the new bridge.

      6. A minor comment to one of RossB’s points:


        Suggests that the median household income is much higher than the income per capita _or_ the median male _and_ median female income (I assume income per capita is mean, which is why I am listing both). Not quite 2x large, so yes, there are clearly some households with only one working adult, but that is expected anyway since some people live alone. In any case, I would venture to guess that most adults of working age who live in West Seattle do work. The problem is that it is very hard for both to work _in_ West Seattle, though.

  5. Rents for apartments near Boeing offices and factories in Renton and Everett were also down, by as much as 3.1%.

    No surprise with the announced 10,000 job cuts. Renton has pretty decent access to everywhere which is going to put additional strain on W. Seattle rents.

  6. First thing my US Congressman and both my Senators will find on their desks Tuesday morning will be the following addition to the Bill of Rights:

    “Everyone living in The United States of America shall be entitled to own a Home.”

    I’ll even leave the line of text by itself so it’ll be a cinch for everybody else to “Cut & Paste.” Would’ve been gone without saying for a fair number of the Second Amendment’s framers to assume that would everybody own the structure wherein they KEPT their Armament.

    When they weren’t BEARING it in the freezing pouring rain regardless of while their SERGEANT yelled at them. But above all, would’ve been like at least the anti-slavery minority of our forebears as a well-aimed “One In The Eye” to hereditary nobility, who aside from either inheriting or marrying their every farthing, lived completely on the rent they intimidated out of their country’s Real Majority.

    Who in their delicate nostrils still smelled better than (eeeeuwwwww) MECHANICS and MANUFACTURERS, the more successful the more putrid. Well, can’t keep Sam Hunt, Patty Murray, and Maria Cantwell waiting. A Freedom-Loving Fourth to All.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Some eastern states have constitutions guaranteeing the right to housing according to d.p. He said Massachussets builds enough housing for all its homeless because of this.

  7. Look at a list of Seattle neighborhoods by density. Then look at a list of Seattle neighborhoods by apartment rents. See a pattern?

    1. You’re missing some factors. The supply of housing is artifically constrained, and living in conveniently walkable, transit-rich neighborhoods near a wide range of services and jobs is desirable to a subset of people so they’re willing to pay a premium for it — even if it’s an unfair premium because of the artificial scarcity. That doesn’t mean density causes high prices. High prices are because people vote with their feet and live in the most convenient location they can afford. (Except those who intentionally trade a large house and the best schools for convenience, or believe the futurama line that car-dependent neighborhoods and huge parking lots are convenient.)

      The choice is often presented as, “Do you want to live in an inner city?” when you can get a larger house and ubiquidous free parking in the suburbs, often accompanied with racist lies about the crime rate in all inner cities in all eras.

      But if you frame the choice as, “Would you like to have more places you can walk to from your house? Would you like to have a corridor bus coming every ten minutes? Do you like the ambiance of Italian and French cities and plazas?”, a lot more people say yes. And even many of those who say no, if they ever do experience the opportunity to actually live in it, will eventually change their mind and say, “More walkable convenience is better than less convenience.”

      You don’t even have to change the size of suburban houses and yards if you don’t want to. Just allow a wider range of uses in the neighborhoods, and lessen the distinction between “residential areas” and “commercial/retail districts”. Eliminate cul-de-sacs, or at minimum make them ped/bike permeable. Move houses forward to exchange some of the excessive setbacks nobody uses for more backyard space. Allow a scattering of row houses and small 4-8 unit apartment buildings: they aren’t evil and don’t ruin the character of the neighborhood. Look to Paris, Boston, Edinburgh, France, and Italy for examples of highly-desired, well-functioning denser neighborhoods.

  8. My Congressman’s really Denny Heck, though his retirement could put my State Representative Beth Doglio in line for the job, with Bernie Sanders’ endorsement.

    But seeing that a certain right-wing County Commissioner blames COVID on the homeless, us former Ballard Lock Haven residents best start checking out both rents and tents a few miles south down SR101 before work starts on the new airport.

    Mark Dublin

  9. Just give us free market for housing, abolish zoning. The new West Seattle bridge should have a toll like SR-99.

    But Seattle loves cars and hates new housing so we will probably build a tunnel for current owners and make it impossible for newcomers to live in the areas where we spend all that public money

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