With Seattle’s walkable core on the rise, Capitol Hill rents make 2012 leap

Even after what seems like a flood of new apartments coming into the market this year, median rent on Capitol Hill has climbed to $1,500 — well above the national average. Pricey perhaps, but we’re sure there are no shortage of people who believe Capitol Hill is more than 13% better than the average American neighborhood.

An examination of Capitol Hill’s rental data shows that, yes, prices have surged in 2012. And that flood of new apartments? You haven’t seen anything yet.


Our neighborhood comes off well enough compared to other central, walkable areas in the city, according to Seattle-based real estate service Zillow. Median rent jumps to $1,680 downtown, and our neighbors on First Hill have a median of $1,540. According to our look at the data, the most comparable Seattle locales are Belltown and South Lake Union/Cascade clocking in at $1,570 and $1,550 respectively.

$1,500 to live on the Hill may not be unreasonable compared to the rest of the city, but it’s a significant jump from last year at this time — 15%, to be exact. Seattle as a whole has climbed 7% — above analyst’s predictions from earlier in the year of a 5% jump. Only Greenwood and Alki clocked in with equal or greater year-over-year leaps compared to Capitol Hill.

Capitol Hill Median Rent List Price

Still, despite the proliferation of developments and accompanying specter of gentrification, Capitol Hill rent isn’t exactly skyrocketing compared to other nearby neighborhoods, where renters found similar increases. First Hill jumped 11%, for example. The only neighborhood in Seattle’s core where rents fell was Belltown, where median rent is down just over 2%, according to the data.

Zillow collects the rental data to provide insight for its analysis tools to help potential buyers weigh local markets to figure out if it’s smarter to rent or to buy. The company claims to combine rental information from apartments, condos and homes in the area. While the big picture might accurately depict long-term trends, the local numbers shake out a little jittery with some large month to month fluctuations and some strange anomalies that might require further inquiry — take the Central District’s median rent listed higher than Capitol Hill at $1,580 in October, for example. We’re assuming size of available properties might explain the measurement. 

The Zillow data is also unlikely to measure other factors — at least directly — when it comes to making rent. It may be an uncomfortable truth, but despite anti-discrimination legislation, it is more difficult to find housing in Seattle for the disabled and members of racial and ethnic minorities. In an operation last year by the City Office of Civil Rights, investigators posed as black or disabled Seattleites looking for apartments at 57 local properties. They found evidence of illegal bias in 54% of cases, and “inconsistencies” in 69%. 

While it may sometimes seem like hardly a week goes by without some new flashpoint in the great gentrification debate, 2012 hasn’t seen a particularly large crop of new apartment units — it’s estimated that this year will see only 3,100 new rentals. This summer, CHS reported on the success some of the new Capitol Hill projects garnered in quickly leasing out. The relatively modest increase in Seattle units those projects were part of, combined with declining unemployment and economic growth, may explain the citywide rent hikes.

The Daily Journal of Commerce reported earlier this year that 5,000 units are under construction in Seattle with 60,000 in the planning stages. 

Experts say the rising rent trend may finally reverse in 2013 when developers are projected to open around 5,500 of those new units — many of them on Capitol Hill.

Still, with the city’s economy recovering, and unemployment continuing to fall, there’s no reason to expect the rent to remain anything but Too Damn High.

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12 thoughts on “With Seattle’s walkable core on the rise, Capitol Hill rents make 2012 leap

  1. Add up easy access to culture, no car payment, no car insurrance, access to public transportation, educational institutions and 15% is actually a bargain. Compare it to a 1 or two hour commute and nothing within walking distance. Capitol is still a bargain! It’s only expensive if you are a fish out of water, if that’s the case I suggest a new pond.

  2. Not everyone can survive without a car. Also, by “a new pond”, I think you might also mean “a less expensive, less convenient, less affordable pond”, which is fine – but keep in mind that income and wages haven’t increased by 15%. Most people working today are making less income for the same work they performed back in 2008.

  3. People survived centuries without the “choice” of a car. People have a responsibility to make the choices necessary and to design their lives based on the options at hand. Now it your turn; you can feel free to support your attack on sensibility with an aberration.

  4. Hands down this is the best article articulating the crazy rental market in Seattle. And more specifically Capitol Hill. We’ve seen a huge increase in folks asking our team for rentals services as a result of the low inventory. The expectation is that they will be able to live on the Hill in a two bedroom for around $1,500. Which is crazy. We know this intuitively. It is great o see the actual numbers in this article to support that gut feeling. Great article!

  5. Good analysis but your last reference to Matt Yglesias’s new book is a bit confusing. If I’m not mistaken, his argument is that rents are often high due the obstacles of creating more housing. This may indeed be a problem on Capitol Hill, but your analysis suggests that the continued construction of new housing on the Hill has kept its prices slightly below similar markets (ei. first hill, belltown, slu), which seems good to me.

  6. Well of course they do. No one is disputing that. But you’re essentially saying “If you can’t afford a 15% rent increase in this neighborhood, you don’t belong here”, which is ignorant and classist.

    Not everyone has the income to survive a sudden jump in rent. Of course that means some people will be priced out of Capitol Hill. But it’s okay to have empathy for your neighbors and people who live around you.

  7. It looks like Zillow gets their rent prices from public listings. It doesn’t seem that they interview tenants or landlords to get the actual rent paid. This looks like it exaggerated the reported rent increase in Capitol Hill in the last year because it’s about three times larger than the average rent increase reported by Dupre Scott, which interviews apartment managers to get actual rents.

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