Strong rental-rate growth for two straight years has allowed landlords to recover finally from when the market took a tumble in 2008-09.
Renter’s personal income, though, has not kept pace, putting the squeeze on them at nearly every end of the market. At the bottom of the income-to-rent ratio, the squeeze can lead to homelessness.
At the top, it squeezes lifestyle and can lead to job creators looking for other more affordable places to start or expand their businesses.
Boards and commissions across the state are calling meetings to address what is being described as an affordability crisis.
The fundamental problem is indisputable, though: We simply are land-constrained in the Puget Sound region. Competition for that limited land inventory is fierce, so prices rise.
The solution to improving supply of developable land is not that simple, though.
With a maxed out transportation system and geographic realities on either side of I-5, the Puget Sound region presents challenges to opening up more buildable land inventory inside of reasonable commute times to the major employment centers.
Uncertain processes to securing a permit to build, the level of impact fees for fire, schools, roads, design restrictions that affect the number of units that can be built on a site, and other realities come into play as well, leading to higher costs to deliver product.
At a recent emergency conference hosted by the governor’s office on affordable housing, discussion ran deep and wide on solutions.
A developer from the Seattle area summed up the entire conference with a simple statement at the end of the day with a very straightforward one of his own, “We just need more land.”
How to create more land inventory is the challenge.
But with an already constrained transportation system laid upon environmental realities, geographic constraints, and a culture of government overspending that has made long term projects like building more roads almost politically impossible today, the Puget Sound region is in a bind.
Public transportation is part of the equation with light rail and opening Paine Field airport to commercial passenger service as examples of ways to relieve pressure on I-5 in the north Puget Sound region and opening up more land inventory by offering solutions that aren’t available today.
Eventually, though, the region has to face the cold truth that we need another north-south corridor east of I-5 to create land inventory up to the slopes of the Cascade Range.
Building roads isn’t something people talk about in environmentally-sensitive polite company, but it’s the elephant in the room.
Without a plan to accelerate expansion of our road grid, housing affordability will likely remain a crisis.