Rents in the Seattle area are rising about four times faster than the national average and have topped $2,000 a month
For the first time this decade, rents in the Seattle area are soaring faster than in any other big city in the country.
The dubious landmark, to be unveiled in a Zillow report Friday, is the latest pain point for renters who have seen their average monthly costs soar nearly $500 in the last four years while incomes largely failed to keep pace.
The typical monthly rent in the Seattle metro area surpassed $2,000 for the first time this spring and is up 9.7 percent in the past year — growing at nearly four times the national average, Zillow’s data shows. That’s more than second-place Portland (up 9 percent), and third-place San Francisco (up 7.4 percent).
In fact, rents are soaring so fast that June’s 1.1 percent monthly price gain in the Seattle area beat out the growth that Chicago and Washington, D.C., have seen in an entire year. But most big cities have seen large rent increases that surpass the historical average.
Lee Hicks, who recently finished graduate school at the University of Washington, has gotten two recent rent increases and now pays 74 percent of her take-home pay on rent at her University District apartment, which will soon cost her $1,695 a month.
“It is a particular source of stress for me,” said Hicks, who’s adopted a very frugal lifestyle working a temp job in public health. “If I want to splurge, it’s going to take a huge hit to my bank account.”
Seattle’s rise to the top of the charts follows a slew of reports from other rental-data companies in the last few months that showed the region in the top five for rental price growth in the country. And it’s the latest sign that ongoing construction of tens of thousands of new housing units around the region doesn’t seem to be having much of an impact yet.
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The Zillow data, which dates back to 2010 and compares the 35 biggest metro areas in the country, shows the median monthly rent for Seattle and neighboring cities in June was $2,031. That’s up from $1,852 a year ago and $1,575 four years ago.
Seattle’s rent was $300 more than the U.S. average in 2011; now, it’s $620 more.
Svenja Gudell, Zillow’s chief economist, explained the rise this way: First, more and more people are coming here as Seattle’s job base expands, and newbies are likely to rent.
Second, the extreme competition and lack of homes to buy mean more people are flooding the rental market, while rising home prices mean landlords can raise the rent without as much worry that tenants will buy.
Third, the new apartments opening up are predominantly luxury units with high price tags.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we continue to see solid (rent) growth,” Gudell said. “Is it going to stay right around 10 percent? I don’t think so. At some point, as we continue to see more and more apartments coming online, rental growth will slow.”
Gudell’s data team projects a 6.7 percent rise in Seattle rent over the next year, which would put the June 2017 average at $2,165.
Seattle ranks eighth overall in actual rent prices, behind Washington, D.C., ($2,123 a month) and just ahead of Denver (at $2,007). San Jose and San Francisco top the list by a wide margin, at about $3,400 a month, followed by four cities between $2,300 and $2,600: Los Angeles, New York, San Diego and Boston.
Of course, home prices here aren’t lagging behind, either. The Zillow report shows Seattle ranked fourth for home-value increases in the last year, up 11.8 percent. That trailed Portland, which led the nation in home-price growth, as well as Denver and Dallas.
The rent increases are hitting low-income Seattleites especially hard. Xochitl Maykovich, a community organizer with the Washington Community Action Network, has been going door to door talking with renters who all seem to be dealing with, or preparing for, higher costs.
“The thing is, wages are not keeping up, and government assistance is not keeping up with that need,” Maykovich said.
She said some renters are being pushed to lower-cost areas farther south or outside Seattle, skimping on other expenses such as health care, or couch-surfing while they look for a cheaper place.