Jan 12, 2024 - News

Seattle-area housing crunch predicted to last decades

Illustration of a small house with different large hands all reaching out to grab it.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Seattle area will face a continued critical housing shortage for at least the next two decades, according to an analysis by the Urban Institute.

Driving the news: Based on recent construction trends, rising housing costs, limited funding for subsidies and restrictive zoning laws, the Institute projects a gap of about 140,000 units over the next 20 years.

  • The gap in housing that's affordable to low-income families will be even larger, per the analysis that was released in December.

Why it matters: People cannot afford to live near their work, schools or amenities, an increasing number of people are paying an unsustainable amount of their income in rent and more are being pushed into homelessness, Greg Smith of Seattle YIMBY told Axios.

State of play: Washington officials estimate the state will need more than 1 million new homes to meet rising demand by 2044, with about 640,000 of those needed in King, Kitsap, Snohomish and Pierce counties.

The bottom line: The objective to "build more housing in every way possible" will require a multi-pronged approach and have to include market-rate housing, government-built housing and social housing, Smith said.

What we're watching: A measure the Legislature passed last year legalized multiplexes in most single-family neighborhoods.

  • But that alone is unlikely to address the region's overall housing needs, as it does not address the large multi-family projects that provide more housing and make new construction feasible for developers, Yonah Freemark, lead researcher for the Urban Institute analysis, told Axios.
  • Another measure backed by housing advocates, said Smith, is a proposal to legalize low-cost co-living homes or single-room occupancy, a modern version of the boardinghouses of the past.

Plus: The state House of Representatives on Monday passed a measure that would allow residential property owners to split their lots into smaller parcels.

What they're saying: Rep. Andrew Barkis (R-Olympia) said splitting underutilized lots would provide a readily available source of new housing.

  • "This bill would remove unnecessary barriers to provide Washingtonians more homeownership opportunities and the ability to develop their own property," he said in a written statement.

Go deeper: Next week, Seattle YIMBY is hosting an event featuring a panel of experts who will discuss the nuts and bolts of Seattle's housing policies and why housing is so expensive here.


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