John Fox, Director of the Seattle Displacement Coalition, writes “we need more subsidized housing but we’re losing 3-4 units of existing unsubsidized housing for every subsidized one we build.”
We’ve said it many times before in this column dating back to the early 2000’s when we first started writing columns for City Living and other Pacific Publishing Newspapers: the city could double or triple rates of new residential construction in Seattle and that still would not bring rents down. We warned it would only serve to accelerate the loss of our existing stock of affordable units to demolition and speculation, drive up rents for poor and working people, and cause more displacement, gentrification, and more homelessness.
It gives us no joy to say, “we told you so” again, because that’s exactly what is happening in our city. In the last five years, new construction has reached record levels. We’ve averaged over 8000 market rate and expensive units built annually since 2013 (over three times the normal rate) and there are projects in the pipeline now for construction of another 22,000 units. Despite such unprecedented growth vacancy rates remained low and rents kept climbing annually 7-8 percent per year, highest in the country among larger cities over most of this period.
According to the recent annual count, homelessness has jumped this year by 15 percent with as many as 6320 unsheltered on any given night, county-wide (with most found on Seattle streets). Despite nearly quadrupling what we spend on homelessness and the 13th year of a ten-year plan to end it, the numbers on the streets and unsheltered rose over the last five years by nearly 30 percent. Over this same five year period over 3900 existing housing units were demolished and applications are pending for removal of another 747 units. As much as 80 percent of these were affordable units and many were larger older rental homes for families or serving up to 8 unrelated individuals. Continue reading