Bellevue leaders are coming under new pressure from some advocacy groups to address the Eastside city’s housing challenges.
On Monday, the Northwest Progressive Institute, Sightline Institute, Complete Streets Bellevue, Eastside for All and Housing Development Consortium cited a poll they commissioned as they urged the city to adopt a more “hands on” approach, like a policy mandating affordable housing in new projects.
Seattle, Kirkland and Redmond already have such policies, which require developers to reserve a percentage of units as affordable while allowing larger buildings, and the poll of Bellevue residents showed strong support.
The lobbying by the liberal, urbanist and pro-housing groups comes as the Bellevue City Council undertakes a review of what strategies to pursue next.
For the poll, Change Research used an online survey to poll 475 adults in Bellevue, weighting the pool of respondents to the city’s demographics.
The advocacy groups didn’t immediately release all of the questions and answers. Instead, they highlighted certain results.
Asked whether the housing market in Bellevue is “currently meeting the needs of the community,” 68% disagreed and 27% agreed.
Asked whether Bellevue should take a “hands-on” approach (“more policies that encourage or require the development of homes that people can afford to buy or rent”) or a “hands-off” approach (“reducing regulations and zoning requirements, and let the private market determine what type of housing is built”), 65% chose the former and 19% the latter.
And asked whether Bellevue should require developers to reserve a percentage of units as affordable housing, “like adjoining cities such as Redmond and Kirkland already do,” 78% agreed and 18% disagreed.
With such policies, developers can sometimes pay fees rather than actually including affordable units in their projects. The cities funnel the dollars to organizations that build affordable housing.
In a statement, Debbie Lacy, executive director of the racial justice nonprofit Eastside for All, said the pandemic and long-term housing trends have put many Bellevue renters under strain and pushed ownership out of reach.
“Many people who work in Bellevue are unable to afford housing here … which leads to longer commutes, more traffic and more pollution,” added Chris Randels, chair of transportation-focused Complete Streets Bellevue.
Bellevue has started adding more affordable housing, Mayor Lynne Robinson said Monday. The city is partnering with the King County Housing Authority, allowing denser development near transit and providing tax breaks to developers that include rent-capped units in their projects, she added.
“We’re gaining momentum,” she said. “People are desperate to correct the housing imbalance that we’re experiencing right now.”
Bellevue is on track to meet a target of bringing 2,500 affordable units online between 2017 and 2027, according to a city spokesperson. But housing costs have soared since that target was set five years ago.
The median monthly rent for a Bellevue apartment was $2,351 last month, according to the rent-tracking company Apartment List, up from $1,871 in August 2017. The median home price last month was $3.3 million in west Bellevue and $1.4 million in east Bellevue, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service, a real estate data company.
The council isn’t currently considering a requirement for developers to include affordable units, though Robinson said the concept is “definitely something we need to consider at some point.”
The mayor hopes to tackle other strategies sooner, describing them as less complicated and as “low-hanging fruit.” Mandating affordable apartments could reduce residential development, she said.
Bellevue grew 24% between 2010 and 2020 and is the second-largest city in King County. Most respondents to the poll reported making at least $100,000 a year. Asked to share their housing stories, some described struggling with rent increases and sky-high home prices.
“I grew up in Bellevue and currently rent,” one said. “I make good money but still can’t afford even a starter home in Bellevue.”
“I feel shut out.”