New Report: Harder Than Ever to Afford Housing in Seattle

By Erica C. Barnett December 9, 2011

A new report from the Seattle Planning Commission finds that Seattle residents, particularly low-income residents, have more trouble than ever paying for housing, and---in the case of low-income families---can only afford to live here if housing is subsidized.

Significantly, the study found that although only about a third (35 percent) of all households spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, about two-thirds of those who are very low-income (making 50 percent or less of the area's median income, or about $29,500 for one person) or low-income (making up to 80 percent of median, or about $47,000 for one person) spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

Among very low-income people, more than half are "severely cost-burdened, meaning more than half their income goes to pay the rent. And it is generally rent, not mortgage payments: "In general, renters are more likely to be severely cost-burdened than owners. Renters most likely to spend more than half of their income on housing costs include seniors, persons of color, single mothers, and other households with more than one child.

And it gets worse: Nearly three-quarters of all rental housing in Seattle is unaffordable to those making 50 percent of median. That means that for a single person making nearly $30,000 a year, the vast majority of housing in the Seattle area is off limits. Subsidized housing won't pick up the slack---for an estimated 50,000 very low-income people in the Seattle area, there are only 16,000 subsidized housing units.

Although families make up a small minority (just 19 percent) of households in Seattle, the shortage of affordable large (three-bedroom-plus) apartments forces many families to either leave the city or rent a unit they can't afford. Two percent of market-rate apartments have three or more bedrooms, and only a fraction of those are affordable to low-income families .

Finally, white residents are much more likely to be homeowners (53 percent) than any other race. The rate of homeownership for Asian residents is 46 percent; for black residents, 29 percent; and for Latino residents, 27 percent.

In slightly brighter news, the report found that housing tends to be more affordable near arterials and urban centers and villages ---places that also have frequent transit service. Access to transit, in turn, "can reduce transportation costs, making overall living expenses lower, even where housing costs are slightly higher" --- a phenomenon we've reported on before.

Read the whole report, which includes recommendations for closing the affordability gap in Seattle, here.
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