If you’ve lived in the Seattle area for many years, you may remember a time when Bellevue was a fairly homogenous quiet bedroom community for Seattle.
Those days are long gone. Bellevue has evolved into a city in its own right, one with distinct neighborhoods and a diverse population — by some measures, more diverse than Seattle’s.
“Remember they used to call it ‘Blahvue’?” said Bellevue Mayor Lynne Robinson, with a laugh. “Now it’s an exciting place to be that attracts all kinds of people. … It’s really inspiring to me.”
I used the latest data to explore differences among Bellevue’s neighborhoods along five factors: Language spoken at home, household income, how many people work in tech, how many are renting versus how many are homeowners and how many residents are married with children.
The data comes from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for 2020. To approximate Bellevue’s neighborhoods, I used data from census tracts, which are relatively small areas with around 3,000 to 6,000 residents, with some exceptions. For Bellevue, I used 37 tracts, but they don’t line up perfectly with the city’s borders. I included tracts that were largely in Bellevue, and excluded those that were mostly in a neighboring area.
Language spoken at home
When I wrote that Bellevue was once demographically homogenous, I wasn’t kidding. The 1970 census showed the city was 98% white. Today, people of color make up more than half of Bellevue’s population. The city’s Asian population, at around 62,000 or 41%, is nearly as large as its white population.
Bellevue is not just racially diverse — it’s also linguistically diverse.
“We have one hundred languages spoken here in Bellevue,” Robinson said. “It is one of the most diverse cities in Washington state. … It really makes for a richer community.”
Almost 40% of its residents were born outside the United States, and the share who speak a foreign language at home is even higher.
Among the population 5 and older, 44% do not speak only English at home. That’s twice as high as in Seattle. Nearly a quarter of Bellevue residents speak an Asian language at home, and 5% speak Spanish. Another 13% speak an Indo-European language other than Spanish.
The area with the lowest share of English-only speakers is part of Bellevue’s downtown/Bel-Red section, in a census tract that runs from the Overlake Medical Center east to 148th Avenue Northeast. Only around one-quarter of the residents speak just English at home. This is primarily a commercial and industrial part of Bellevue, but there have recently been a number of apartment complexes constructed in an area now called the Spring District, in anticipation of a light-rail station scheduled to open in 2024.
A wealthy area along the Lake Washington waterfront in the Newport neighborhood has the highest percentage of English-only speakers. But even here, nearly 1 out of 4 residents speak a language other than English at home.
Median household income
Bellevue has long been among the more affluent suburban cities in the Seattle area. The 2000 census showed the median household income in Bellevue was nearly 50% higher than the U.S. median.
But today’s Bellevue is on a different level — it’s easily one of the wealthiest mid-sized cities in the nation. The typical home is valued at around $1.5 million, according to Zillow. And the median household income — $144,000 — is more than double the U.S. median. There are only three cities of at least 100,000 residents in the nation with higher incomes than Bellevue, and all three are in Silicon Valley.
“There are no starter homes in Bellevue,” Robinson said. But the city has made some progress, she said, noting the affordable housing stock has doubled since 2017, when it put in an affordable housing plan.
“And we plan to put in far more affordable housing in all ranges of affordability,” she said.
There is a wide range of income levels across Bellevue neighborhoods. In five census tracts, the median household income was less than $100,000. The lowest median was in a tract that straddles the Crossroads and Lake Hills neighborhoods, at around $70,600. This is a diverse area with a mix of Asian, white and Hispanic residents. Nearly half the population in this area was born outside the U.S. More than 60% live in a rental unit.
The highest-income tract in Bellevue is on the Newport waterfront, the same one with the highest percentage who speak only English at home. The median household income here was $240,800. This neighborhood is largely made up of married couples (72% of households), and 90% own their home.
The tech industry has been the main driver behind growing wealth in the Seattle area, and it started on the Eastside with Microsoft. The company had been headquartered in Bellevue before it moved to its Redmond campus in 1986. Today, many large tech companies have offices on the Eastside, and Amazon has focused much of its recent expansion in Bellevue.
About 19,000 Bellevue residents work in a computer/mathematical occupation — that’s 26% of the employed population. That’s much higher than in Seattle, where about 14% of the workforce is in tech.
Robinson points out that tech jobs bring with them other types of employment opportunities. “For every tech job that comes into Bellevue, service jobs come as well,” she said. “and we see that reflected in the community.”
There are seven census tracts in Bellevue where more than a third of the employed population works in tech fields. In one tract in the northern part of the Bridle Trails, around 43% of the employed population — more than 800 people — work in tech. This area of Bellevue is very close to Redmond, and it’s likely many of these folks work at Microsoft.
There are still some areas of Bellevue where relatively few people work in tech. In three census tracts, it’s less than 10%. The lowest percentage is in a census tract in the Eastgate/Factoria area, where only about 8% work tech jobs.
Population in rental units
Most people in the Seattle area still probably think of Bellevue as a community primarily of single-family homes. And it certainly was for many years. There was even a time when you could walk through Bellevue’s downtown core and see folks washing their car in their driveway.
The single-family homes in downtown Bellevue are long gone. And in fact, 2010 census data showed for the first time that single-family homes made up less than half (49%) of the housing units in the city.
“Downtown is our fastest-growing neighborhood, and it is still only 70% built out,” Robinson said.
Today, residential buildings with 10 or more apartments comprise 35% of housing units in Bellevue. And as you’d expect, the share of Bellevue residents who are renters has also increased. The most recent data shows 42% of Bellevue’s population are renters.
Of course, some areas of the city are much more heavily skewed toward renters than others. In one area of downtown Bellevue, nearly everyone is a renter. The densely populated census tract that includes the Bellevue Library has around 3,200 residents, and about 97% are renters.
This tract has demographics similar to many parts of downtown Seattle — lots of younger adults and very few children. Two-thirds of the residents here are between 20 and 39. But this area is more affluent than most renter-heavy parts of Seattle, with a median household income of $131,500.
Many parts of Bellevue still have very few renters — and most of those who do rent are in single-family homes rather than apartments. In one census tract north of Coal Creek, in the south of Bellevue, only 4% of the roughly 3,000 residents live in a rented home. This is a very affluent part of Bellevue, with a median household income of about $190,000. The median age is 47.5, the highest in Bellevue, and more than 90% of the households are married couples.
Like all the suburban cities that sprung up across the nation in the postwar era, Bellevue was built primarily for families. In 1970, 57% of the households in the city were married couples with children under 18, and 44% of the population was younger than 20.
Today’s Bellevue looks nothing like that. There are many more singles and young couple without children.
And a lot of those married-with-kids households have now become empty nesters — including the mayor, who recently downsized into a condo in Old Bellevue.
“We lived in the Woodridge neighborhood for almost 25 years. … It was a great place to raise the family,” Robinson said. “But then when our kids went off on their own, we did not need the big house anymore, and I really wanted to give another family an opportunity to raise their family there.”
Only about 14,000 Bellevue households — less than one-quarter — are married couples with kids under 18. Today, there isn’t a single census tract where married couples with kids are the majority.
Some come close. In four census tracts, married-with-kids families make up at least 40% of the households. The highest percentage is in a tract in the Cougar Hills area, where there are more than 600 married couples with kids — 46% of the tract’s households.
Not surprisingly, the area with the fewest families with kids is downtown. In the census tract that includes the Bellevue Square Mall and the Downtown Bellevue Park, there are a little more than 200 married-couple-with-kids households — around 7% of all households in the area.
While Bellevue has certainly changed, becoming a diverse city of distinct neighborhoods, Robinson says that there is a similarly high level of amenities and services across the city.
“Something I love about Bellevue is every neighborhood has high public safety, every neighborhood has excellent public education, every neighborhood has access to parks and green spaces,” she said.