In a panel discussion at the University of Washington, representatives of real-estate websites, a real-estate firm and a labor union discussed how Seattle came to be increasingly unaffordable and what can be done to change that.
How expensive living in Seattle has become — and what to do about it — was the topic of a panel discussion that drew hundreds to the University of Washington Tuesday evening.
During “Priced out: The struggle for an affordable Seattle,” panel members from real-estate sites Zillow and Redfin, real-estate firm Spectrum Development Solutions, and the Service Employees International Union talked about how Seattle came to be increasingly unaffordable and what can be done.
The high price of housing, especially, was a major focus of the discussion.
One reason for the soaring housing cost is that “housing growth has not been able to keep up with demand,” in part because of zoning restrictions, said Skylar Olsen, senior economist at Zillow.
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Jake McKinstry, a principal at real-estate firm Spectrum Development Solutions, said affordability was a relative concept, with Seattle drawing newcomers to the city who find housing more affordable than in, say New York City or San Francisco.
Both Nela Richardson, chief economist at Redfin, and David Rolf, president of Service Employees International Union 775, cited income — or the lack thereof — and stagnant wages as a major cause of the problem.
“Around the country, house prices have grown faster than incomes,” Richardson said. “Without an income solution, we won’t have an affordable-housing solution.”
Several panelists talked about Seattle’s zoning restricting many areas to single-family homes and the need for more inclusionary zoning.
Rolf also talked about a “strange political axis” in Seattle of NIMBY (“not in my backyard”) folks who are afraid their property values will decrease if more singles or young people move into their neighborhoods, and social-service advocates who fear lower-income residents or their own social-service agencies might get squeezed out of a neighborhood if there’s too much development and the neighborhood gentrifies.
The result of those attitudes concentrates poverty in pockets and impedes economic development, Rolf contended, saying that there should be incentives for development that help create more economically mixed neighborhoods.
McKinstry advocated for more incentives for developers to build housing that can then be rented out at affordable rates or to create mixed-income housing communities. “Otherwise, you won’t get low-income housing in cool neighborhoods,” he said.
In response to an audience question about the pros and cons of rent control, the two panelists who answered spoke about the drawbacks, saying rent control disincentivizes developers from building new units and landlords from taking care of or improving their property.
The event was part of the LiveWire series of discussions about vital issues affecting the region, sponsored by The Seattle Times. Tuesday’s event was also sponsored by Microsoft, the University of Washington and Sabey.
Watch the entire discussion in the video below.