The Regional Housing Gap

Graph: King County’s population growth
King County’s population growth has consistently outpaced housing creation. Housing is percentage of prior year total units.

Last year, the population of King County grew 48,600, or 2.3%. The housing stock grew 14,700, or 1.6%. The gap, 0.7%, is a rough measure of our failure to create enough housing.

This is the sixth straight year when population growth exceeded housing creation in King County. Snohomish and Pierce appeared more balanced until 2014, but now face heightened housing pressures as displacement of King County workers from expensive local housing markets grows.

The gap between population and housing growth is an increase in household size. Over this decade, 11.5% more King County residents have squeezed into 8.3% more housing units. That might not seem so large, but it’s about 27,000 missing homes. Those on the margins of the housing market live with parents longer or take on more roommates. Some are homeless. The housing shortage also manifests in rationing via higher rents and rising home prices.

The other safety valve to the housing shortage has been the displacement of King County families to neighboring counties, and particularly to the South Snohomish suburbs. The role of Pierce and Snohomish Counties in the regional housing market goes beyond more housing units. Specifically, they provide much of the new single-family housing growth in the region. Seattle is 21% of the region’s housing stock, but just 2% of added single family housing since 2010 is in Seattle. Distant developments on the edges of the urban growth area have helped to fill a second housing gap, a deficit of housing for families in King County. But in recent years both Pierce and Snohomish are increasingly unable to keep up with demand.

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Seattle Considers Zoning More “Family-Sized” Apartments

SColorful Apartmentseattle’s elected officials want developers to build more family-sized apartments — the two- and three-bedroom units that could offer parents and children an alternative to expensive single-family home rentals. In recent years, less than 20 percent of new apartment construction has been multi-bedroom and the majority of that has been two-bedroom. The city has proposed a new policy that would require residential developers in some low-rise zones to build a two-bedroom or larger unit for every four studios or one-bedrooms they build.

The proposed regulation is part of a broad package of upzones and land-use tweaks across the city. It is the latest step in Seattle’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA). Over the last few years, the city has implemented several neighborhood upzones. With the upzones came a requirement that developers provide a certain number of income-restricted units in their building or pay an in-lieu fee to the city housing fund.

Earlier this month, the mayor and City Council unveiled the final environmental impact statement for the citywide version of those neighborhood upzones. It increases allowed density in neighborhood centers and along transit corridors in much of the city. The plan also makes some small changes to the land-use code. It creates a new zone called Residential Small Lot that will replace about 6 percent of existing single-family zones. The new zone permits a modest increase in density by allowing up to three units per lot instead of one. The citywide plan also expands the boundaries of neighborhood “urban villages.”

If the package passes, Lowrise 1 (LR1) zoning will no longer have a density limit and developers will be required to build family-sized units. LR1 allows for “gentle density” such as cottages, duplexes, rowhouses and small apartment buildings. According to Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) spokesman Jason Kelly, the current density limits in LR1 make it economically unviable to build apartments. The change should make apartment construction financially feasible. Because there are so few apartments in LR1 currently, OPCD heard concerns from residents that buildings full of studios would not be a good fit.

The requirement that for every four studios or one-bedroom units, developers must build a unit with two or more bedrooms is, in part, a concession to existing residents. It will likely have a modest impact on the lack of family-sized apartments.

Continue reading in Next City

Originally written by Josh Cohen

Hungry and disappearing: Is the orcas’ future already here?

Orca Whale jumping out of the water

Every day this summer, Jeanne Hyde scanned the waters off the west side of San Juan Island, hoping that the killer whales would show up. All night, she streamed the underwater sounds from microphones submerged along the shoreline, waiting for the whales’ distinctive trills, chirps and whistles to wake her up.

Too often, she slept through the night.

“Day after day after day, I’d wake up the next morning and I’d check the recording to make sure I didn’t miss something,” said Hyde, 71, who has watched and listened for the whales every day for 14 years.

“And I’d just put a line through the date and the time: nothing, nothing, nothing. They just weren’t here.”

This summer was “the worst year on record” for sightings of endangered southern resident killer whales in the Salish Sea, according to Ken Balcomb, a biologist and founder of the Center for Whale Research, who has been monitoring the animals for more than 40 years.

Orca daily sightings_2004-17

As recently as 2004, the whales were spotted 150 days from May through September, or nearly every day. This year, they showed up on only 40 days in the same period, Balcomb said. Previously, the worst year was 2013, when there were 70 days of sightings.

But with this year’s record-low Chinook runs, the whales had no reason to waste their time in the Salish Sea, Balcomb said.

The southern residents’ absence this summer is just one more signal that, without more salmon, the whales’ survival is in jeopardy. A new study, to which Balcomb contributed, concludes that the only way to increase the number of whales is to increase the number of Chinook, while also addressing other threats to their survival, including noise from ships and boats that can disrupt their feeding.

The deaths of seven whales in the past year, including a calf that appeared emaciated before disappearing in September, dropped the wild population to only 76 animals. That’s the lowest number in more than 30 years, and about half as many southern residents as probably existed before dozens were killed or captured for marine parks in the 1960s and 70s.

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