When Stranger writers can no longer afford to live on Capitol Hill

CHS reported on Capitol Hill’s soaring rents last year amidst growing demand for places to live in Seattle’s walkable core. This week, the Stranger’s Marti Jonjak has written about a different form of rent increase around the Hill. Here’s what happened when her 20th Ave, 1927-built apartment building The Prince of Wales was purchased by a new owner with plans for improvements:

Rents at the Prince are suddenly skyrocketing. While previous rates for its studios and one-bedroom units ranged from $600 to $900 a month, the new owners are jacking up rents an extra $315 to $670 a month. That’s 45 to 90 percent. Many tenants, such as Lind, say they can’t afford to stay. At $350 more per month, her increase is 44 percent.

This all began on October 16, when a development company called Briarbox purchased the Prince of Wales and hired management company Pacific Living Properties (PLP). Since then, PLP has distributed notices every month announcing that rents will increase in 60 days. About 15 units have received notices so far, though not everyone’s been hit. Some wait for the inevitable; others relocate of their own accord. But the building is quickly emptying. Of 32 units, 20 will be vacant by February.

As Jonjak reports, the new owner of the Prince of Wales after this October’s $3.45 million purchase is in the midst of overhauling the entire building, unit by unit, in a project with a construction budget just under $200,000, according to DPD records. The plan also included the addition of six new basement units in the building.

The result of the rent increases, the Stranger says, is tenants moving out, opening up the building for construction and saving the owners of the LLC now listed as the holders of the property — real estate investors Chris Gurdjian, Jeff Miller and Jarrett Johnson — the money they would have needed to spend on relocation assistance. It’s all legal. Anybody without a lease given proper notification will need to pay up or move out.

With increasing market opportunity and pressure for the Hill’s apartment buildings, more properties will change hands and more tenants could face similar situations — though the huge increases at the Prince of Wales might be hard to match with many of the Hill’s already jacked-up rents. You can also add factors like the looming implementation of new rules for unreinforced masonry structures in the city to the list of pressures that could push for projects like this around the Hill. Worth more than ever, central Seattle’s old building stock is getting an investment-compounding upgrade.

For renters, having a solid lease in place in one protection but can be easier said than done. More will likely end up like Joniak and looking for a new place to live. Will it be anywhere near Capitol Hill? For many, no.

The numbers the investors are betting on, however, say that there are plenty more where she came from.

44 thoughts on “When Stranger writers can no longer afford to live on Capitol Hill

  1. 30% increase to my unit, the neighbor’s rent doubled from $895 to $1600. The rent in the studios went up to $1250 and I’m sure the reason is because the new owner knows the people in the studios can’t afford it and will HAVE to leave. They are also “making improvements” to my building as well.

  2. Welcome to capitalism and a free market economy. I want to live in Magnolia or over in one of those $1M condos on Harvard – but I can’t afford it. So, I live in a neighborhood I can afford. Only in Seattle do people think it’s a ‘right’ to live somewhere like Capitol Hill. Property owners should be able to lease their property at whatever price the market will bear.

  3. I live without a lease on a month-to-month basis. I enjoy the freedom of being able to move out on a moment’s notice. However, I know that there’s a trade-off: the landlord can increase rent on a moment’s notice as well. There’s never been ambiguity in my mind about this fact of adult life.

    Writing at The Stranger is a minimum-wage job. If she wants the freedom to live wherever she wants, she should get a job at Dick’s Drive-In.

  4. If you’re currently in a lease, changes can’t be made, until after your lease ends. But if your lease is ending, then by law you have to be informed with at least 60 days notice if your rent is going up more than 20%.

  5. the only law is that any increase in excess of 10% in a year’s time requires 60 days notice. If you are paying 1,000 a month, they can give you notice of a $90 rent increase on 1/1 that takes effect on 2/1. If they want to increase it another $50 on June 1, they have to give you notice the first of April for that.

    Nobody thinks they have a right to live on Capitol Hill. they DO, however, have a right to livable decently priced housing and to not get fucked over by these asswipes from the Eastside coming over here to make a fast buck on what they call “undervalued” properties.

    I’m very happy to be in a 2 year lease at $1,100. Very glad. I advise folks getting screwed over for higher and higher rents to ask around to their friends. There’s a lot of units on the Hill that never get advertized.

  6. Um, actually, NO, Cap Hill Lover. You actually DON’T have a right to “liveable decent priced housing”. You have no such right at all to decently priced housing. The landlord has the right to charge just as ridiculously much as he possibly can, if he wants to. It sucks, but that’s the way it is. And they will probably get it too. That’s why they’re doing it– because they can.

  7. It’s interesting how “making improvements” is a special idea. I know of a Howell building with a similar story.

    Gutting a unit means: replacing all the walling (and paint), new flooring with aesthetic laminate and vinyl, installing plumbing for washer/dryer, new appliances (stove, dishwasher, fridge), granite counters, lighting heating and plumbing fixtures.

    Increasing rents is just one part of a long investment. When you buy a building for 5 million, and plan on throwing 4 million more into it over 2 years, you have to have the units turned (and thus current tenants need to leave) or else you are losing on the investment.

    The 35% increase is just polite, as the rents will go up another 35% when the units are completely new. And this %70 won’t even start paying back for years.

  8. It seems people are always on here commenting that no one has a “right” to live in the neighborhood, but long-term residents have invested in their community usually with involvement, relationships, etc. We may not have “rights” but pardon us for wanting to stay in a place that we’ve cared for so deeply and are increasingly being booted out of by rich incomers. Also, be aware that many apartments won’t give you a lease past the initial one–my lease converted to month-to-month after the first year with no option for yearly renewal and I know many leases are the same. I’ve already been forced out of one building by this sort of insane increase, and am hoping my current building doesn’t go the same way. I think these people who comment that long-term residents don’t have a right to stay have no sense of manners, and more of a sense of entitlement than the people they are criticizing.

  9. With the central banks around the world printing money to support their economies, food prices are rising, and in some places, soaring. I guess if you are poor, you don’t deserve to eat either.

    I am just waiting for a revolution to start. The world has been relatively peaceful for awhile now. Those who have plenty are taking that for granted.

  10. I hear west Seattle is going to be the new capital hill. Move your asses over there and have your $800 a month rent. Capital hill is in the dead center and your going to pay for this. Lets gets the trash off the hill.

  11. The reason rent is so high is lack of stock. Want to do something about it? Support cheaper housing like apodments. Go to counsel meetings and argue in support of DADU’s on single-family zoned lots. Rental prices (and prices of real estate) are too damn high because there’s not enough of it. More housing inventory = lower prices.

  12. The East Village….Williamsburg, Brooklyn…Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Just a few examples where this has happened. “Starving artist” make a neighborhood trendy…possibly even “safer” than what it used to be. Now that people want to come to these places and live there, those that created the atmosphere are slowly being shoved out. Seattle is growing, public transportation will slowly get better…therefore some might now find it easier to not live on the hill but still hang out there because they can just commute to it. It sucks…but its inevitable in a growing city.

  13. UM, slimeball, no, I’m not. I used to have a rental condo which I leased out for hundreds less per month than I could’ve got, and it was anything but slumlike. Call me stupid, but I had no need nor desire to turn a “profit” on it, just cover the costs. The landlord tenant act says nothing about cost. It says the unit has to be livable and up to certain standards, but it doesn’t say anything about being “affordable”.

  14. “Alternative Weekly ‘The Stranger’ unable to pay a living wage to writers”. Yes, jacking up the rates is really a dick move, but they are going up. The real issue is wage increases aren’t keeping pace. While we all love The Stranger, let’s not let Village Voice media off the hook for their payscales.

  15. Rainworshipper, I think you (and some others) might be reading more into my comments than was there. I did not excuse greed on the part of money-hungry investors. I didn’t say that 30% or 50% increases in rent are acceptable behavior (in my book). I simply said that people who think they’re entitled to FAIRLY priced housing are mistaken. You’re only entitled for your rental to be livable, and up to code– not affordable. And what’s “affordable” to you might seem cheap to someone else who has more money than sense. (For example, I think anyone who would pay $1250/mo for a studio is insane. I rented out my 2BR/2BA condo near Group Health for $1300). Greedy landlords create their own problems, such as constant churn of people in&out (which inflicts wear&tear on the bldg.), units empty (which bring in $0.00), etc. I preferred to have stable tenants who treated my property well, and didn’t cause a pain in my ass. In exchange I gave them WELL-below market rent.

    There are lots of good reasons for a landlord to charge reasonable rent, including as you mentioned good tenants that create a stable community and neighborhood as responsible citizens. But but none of those reasons is because their tenants are “entitled” to it. Anybody who thinks that way will probably be a renter all their life.

    And BTW, Cap Hill Lover, assuming that all these landlords are “asswipes from the Eastside coming over here to make a fast buck” is just naïve. There’s plenty of greed on this side of the lake without taking cheap shots at the Eastside.

  16. You don’t need to even study NYC burroughs for an arguement here in Seattle. Check Pioneer Square and Belltown. Both up and coming ‘it’ places. Rents jacked up, Yuppys came in, crime came in, people fled: Leaving well, crime and vacancy and bridge and tunnel folks. It’s only a matter of time before Capitol Hill suffers the same fate. I find myself wondering what is the next area du jour, I want to buy cheap and sell rich!

  17. I believe the rules change if the building is bought out by another person or company. That is a grey area that sucks.

    This situation kind of makes you wish you had a bf/gf just so you can afford an apartment that doesnt totally suck.

  18. Sorry, but structures like apodments are no solution to affordable housing. In fact, in San Francisco micro housing units command rents of $1,000 or more. When developers see that people are willing to pay $1,000 for a closet, rents in studios and one bedrooms will skyrocket beyond your wildest imagination.

  19. Just to be clear, Stranger is not owned by Village Voice (can’t tell if being trolled/commenter is misinformed/commenter is misunderstood — so, taking one for the team. Nobody else need to point out VVM thing, now, see? I’m here for you)

  20. “$1250 for a STUDIO is insane.”

    When you’re a 25 year old software engineer who just got a job making $100k and who’s never lived on their own before, you don’t know that. There’s the problem.

  21. @divegrass – I don’t really need the “improvements”, I’d prefer to just be able to keep an semi-affordable roof over my head in a neighborhood that I have invested (money & energy) in as a resident. I guess it is time to invest somewhere else. Anyway, I won’t really want this place after all the charm has been “improved” upon until it looks like a circa 2006 Belltown condo on the inside.

  22. I’m all for the much needed updates and improvements, these 1900 built buildings are ugly and dilapidated, and have been needing much improvement for years, I’m looking forward to modern updates and much needed face lifts of most of the buildings around!

  23. CapitOl hill. With an ‘o’. Are you sure you live here? Come on now. Also, people who pay $800 for an apartment are not “trash”. They are students, artists, writers, bartenders & servers at your favorite restaurant, median-salary wage earners ($45,950 in Sea)… Basically they are part of the reason CapitOl hill is a vibrant, diverse, cool place. They are the people who create an energy, space and culture that makes everyone and their mother want to move here. Lose that and you lose mass appeal. I think you might like Bellevue, check it out some time.

  24. Yeah, this might be a capitalism, but it also proves how capitalism is self-destructing. The reason why Capitol Hill is so popular is the vibe, that is created by people who live there.

    Once this people won’t be able to aford to live there. The vibe will be gone (so the popularity) and it will be another sterile place like lower queen anne.

  25. Geoff, I’m with you. I like a lot of the old brick buildings, as well. I look at the incredible amount of flat-roofed, box-like identical-looking new construction (both condos and apartments) that have gone up recently and it brings to mind an old gag skit wherein a guy has a few too many drinks after work and ends up sleeping on a bus bench because all of the “modern” buildings in his neighborhood look the same and he can’t figure out which one he lives in!

  26. It sounds like some of you people really need to get off Capitol Hill every once in a while. There are lots of cool places in Seattle that have the same vintage buildings and all kinds of charm. If you haven’t been to Ballard lately, you haven’t been to Ballard. Columbia City, parts of Beacon Hill, Georgetown, the list goes on. And you might just find that reasonable rent that you’re complaining you can’t find on Capitol Hill anymore. You don’t have to become a (425)er to live in a fun neighborhood, just because you can’t afford anything on Capitol Hill anymore.

  27. > In fact, in San Francisco micro housing units command rents of $1,000 or more

    That’s partly because SF has capped the number of these to 375 for the entire city ( http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2012/11/20/san-francisco-su) – demand there is so great that it’s nowhere near enough to increase the supply of housing enough to meet demand and bring prices down. And SF is *way* spendy; only NYC is moreso; $1000 is *cheap* for a studio in the in-city neighborhoods; more likely you’re looking at $1.5k…$2k or so; so no wonder that apodments will be comparably priced and likely snapped up quickly.

  28. I’ve never read so many whiny people before about something so great… How is it everybody seems so against brand new buildings and all the features they offer? Modern bathrooms, kitchens, appliances from the 2010′s not the 1910′s, windows that are more than a single pane glass, insulation from this century, etc, etc, I’ve lived in both old and new apartments, and beleive me, I would never take one of those old run down buildings ever again.

  29. If San Francisco can cap the number of apodments, why the hell can’t we? Answer: Richard Conlin…chair of the Land Use Committee, who is stubbornly refusing to do anything about the proliferation of these ugly, expensive (per square foot) atrocities.

  30. Written like a true developer and/or developer’s apprentice. I will reserve judgment on how well these cheaply and quickly constructed buildings withstand the passage of time and determine if they age as gracefully as some of the older edifices, thank you. Old buildings can always be retro-fitted with new windows, etc. anyway.

  31. The clapboard cheapies they are throwing up to and fro will never stand the test of time like the grand ol’ dames built 100 years ago. ‘New and Modern’ = equals a pile of 2x4s covered with a meager brick facade. Keep up the vision of the future there, these will be the blight of the hill in 30 years – Check out the Iliad on Bellevue Ave for reference, much like the 70s were awful for hill architecture, this building boom will do the same. Very sad.

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