Home to some of the wealthiest ZIP codes in the state, King County’s Eastside – with cities including Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond – has earned a reputation as an affluent area with a booming tech job market, upscale retail centers and median home values topping $1.5 million.

Yet, this region’s economic might masks a jarring reality: nearly 31,000 Bellevue residents, over 17,000 Kirkland residents and 10,000 Redmond residents are currently experiencing poverty, according to Hopelink’s Community Needs Assessment. The Assessment also found that the area’s share of individuals below 185% of the federal poverty level is 12% higher than surrounding areas. Child poverty is also significant in Bellevue, with 25 – 35% of children in the Hilltop and Lakemont neighborhoods living in poverty.

Between 2019 and 2020, King County gained roughly 35,000 new residents, driven in large part by a strong job market for highly skilled, highly paid workers. This has put significant pressure on rents and home prices, making the area less affordable for many longtime and new residents.

Many of these residents are millennials – those born between 1981 and 1996 – who made up over 30% of those Hopelink served in 2020.

“The biggest thing clients are coming to us for right now is rental assistance,” says Emily Carey, Hopelink’s Kirkland center manager. “A lot of it is young families that just hit roadblock after roadblock and have gotten to a place where they’re having a hard time paying their rent and other bills.”

According to a 2018 study by the Brookings Institution, millennials are more likely to have experienced poverty than members of Generation X and baby boomers at similar ages. This is due to a multitude of factors including increased higher education education costs, the student debt crisis, decreased labor force participation and lower median incomes. Millennials also make up the majority of the rental market with one in four telling Apartment List’s 2022 Millennial Homeownership Report they don’t plan on ever buying a home due to financial strain. Carey says that she sees these trends reflected in Hopelink’s Kirkland client base.

“We’re seeing a lot of millennial-aged people who’ve been living in this community for years with pretty reasonable rents who’re now getting priced out. People’s rents are going up by $600 to $1,000 and then they can’t live in the communities where they work or may have grown up in. Sometimes they’re having to move 30 or 40 minutes away to find something affordable and commute in,” says Carey. 

Hopelink found that between 2012 and 2022, multifamily unit rental costs increased between 44% and 71% across its service area. Fabiola Bogarin, center manager at Hopelink’s Bellevue location, shares Carey’s concern.

“Literally every single day, a family comes to the center and asks for shelter,” Bogarin says. Most say they’re living in their car. Both Bogarin and Carey saw a surge in requests for rental assistance as well as temporary and transitional housing after the state’s eviction moratorium ended in February.

Hopelink provides 115 units of housing for families experiencing homelessness. When a family or individual connects with Hopelink for housing or rental assistance, case managers can engage them with the agency’s other programs that work together as a safety net. Clients can pick up nutritious and fresh food at Hopelink’s Food Markets, build money managing skills through the Financial Capabilities program, or enroll in the Job and Career Coaching program to map out a career path.

Financial hardship certainly isn’t rare for the millennial generation – especially in a region with skyrocketing costs of living – and it’s nothing to be ashamed of, says Carey.

“Before I started this role, I worked in the Hopelink Food Program and we saw a lot of people not wanting to take more food than they thought they needed,” she says. “There was a lot of continual reassuring being done there. We want our neighbors to leave with more as opposed to less. It’s the same with financial assistance. The money is here to assist you in getting to a place where you’re stable and there’s no shame in that.”

To learn more about Hopelink or to learn more about volunteer opportunities, visit www.Hopelink.org.