Of the about 60,000 Seattle households with children under 18, just about 20,000 — one out of three — live in a rental unit. That’s a far lower rate than for most other big cities.
Ramona Shore recalls the concerned looks when she’d tell people she was raising her young son in a Capitol Hill apartment.
“Why don’t you move to Shoreline?” is the kind of question they’d ask.
Never mind that Seattle is a city with tons of renters — it’s different when you have a kid.
“There’s this idea that you’re supposed to have a house, ” said Shore, a single mom who still shares an apartment with her son, Ivan, now 16.
Indeed, for people with kids, Seattle was — and still is — overwhelmingly a city of homeowners.
Of the roughly 60,000 city households with children under 18, just about 20,000 — one out of three — live in a rental unit, according to census data released last month. Among the 50 most populous U.S. cities, only one has a lower percentage: Portland.
It’s a very different scenario for Seattleites who do not have kids. The clear majority of those households — 58 percent — are renters. And that number has been growing in recent years as Seattle increasingly becomes a renter city.
So as the overall number of renters grows, it stands to reason that more people with kids also would be renting. And yet, that’s not what’s happening.
The number of kid households that rent has barely budged in the past 10 years — even as the total number of households in Seattle has climbed by about 50,000.
Apartment developers have responded by building units geared more for singles than families. Since 2007, Seattle has added studio and one-bedroom apartments at four times the rate of larger units, according to my analysis of data from CoStar, a leading real-estate information provider.
In many big cities, raising kids in an apartment is commonplace.
Miami is at the opposite extreme from Seattle: Three out of four folks with kids are renters there. New York isn’t far behind.
In fact, 29 of the 50 biggest U.S. cities are more like Miami than Seattle in that the majority of people with kids are apartment dwellers.
Why are so few Seattle parents renters?
When you consider how expensive it is to buy a home here — and how expensive children are — it seems counterintuitive. Just as a matter of economics, you’d think people with kids in Seattle would be more likely to rent than their counterparts in other cities — not less.
And that’s something Shore can relate to. As an administrator at an engineering firm — a recent raise brought her salary to $18 per hour — owning a home was always out of reach financially.
But she notes that many people she knows in Seattle took a very different route to parenthood than she did. Shore was just 23 when she had her son. Many of the people she knows are only having kids now, married and in their late 30s.
“These people are more established,” she says, “They have a house, or even one of those cute row houses over in Beacon Hill — and a lot of times a double income.”
She may be onto something of an explanation for Seattle’s low rate of kid households that rent: As I wrote about in a previous column, what was once unconventional — having kids in midlife — has become commonplace in Seattle.