What San Francisco’s magical rent equation says about Seattle affordability

Familiar Places. Familar Faces.

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 1.41.59 PMThe numbers from an online rental site claim Seattle’s rents jumped 11% this month compared to May 2015. Our last serious look in March revealed a continued rise despite a flood of new units coming into the market on Capitol Hill. Our quick and dirty sampling method shows about a 3% jump this May compared to May 2015 for 1BR and studio units. The only thing the various analyses of Seattle’s rents and affordability seem to agree on is the numbers keep rising.


Here’s what they’re saying San Francisco, Seattle’s “Ghost of Christmas Future” model city: From A guy just transcribed 30 years of for-rent ads. Here’s what it taught us about housing prices

(Image: Eric Fischer)

(Image: Eric Fischer)

This is as close as you’re ever likely to see to an answer to life, the universe and everything.

It’s a chart that almost perfectly predicts the San Francisco housing market using only three variables:

  1. The number of jobs located in San Francisco County.
  2. The number of places in San Francisco County for people to live.
  3. The total amount of money that is paid to everyone who works jobs in San Francisco County.

It’s all summarized in the formula at the top of the chart. If you gave me values for (1), (2) and (3) above, then I could predict to you with startling accuracy how much the median two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco will cost to rent in that situation.

 The “guy” posted here about his findings:

It would take a 53% increase in the housing supply (200,000 new units), or a 44% drop in CPI-adjusted salaries, or a 51% drop in employment, to cut prices by two thirds.

Looking for affordability answers for Seattle? You have four choices, apparently. Cut tons of jobs. Cut salaries. Make everything really, really expensive (OK, we’re working on that!), or build way more housing — somewhere around 50% more.

Seattle’s proposed housing levy is set up to help boost the creation of 20,000 new affordable units in the city in the next decade. But sounds like we might need a few new “un-affordable” ones, too — to the tune of several thousand:

Instead, I’m going to close with a lesson for cities that are adding jobs and/or wealth faster than homes but are not yet San Francisco: Portland, Seattle, Austin, Denver, Minneapolis. Maybe Oakland and Los Angeles and San Diego and DC still, too. For the love of god, keep adding homes. Keep adding homes so things don’t get any worse and you’re not trapped in a lose-lose-lose shitstorm like San Francisco.

Save Madison Valley: Tensions over planned PCC development

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Last week, around one hundred and twenty people gathered at the Bush School Community Center deep in Madison Valley to attend a presentation and question and answer session with architect Charles Strazzara on his conceptual ideas for what the future mixed use development project on the property that currently houses the much-loved City People’s garden store on E Madison will look like. And since many members of the audience weren’t keen on seeing such a large project go up in the Valley, it was a lively — and at times heated — meeting. And there are still weeks until the project’s first design review in July.

“We’re in that interim of space between now and the submission of that EDG packet. I want to work with you until then. We want to become a good neighbor,” Strazzara told the crowd.

CHS broke the news back in March that the owners of the triangular lot that is currently home to City People’s is in the process of selling the property to the Michigan-based developer Velmeir with plans to build a four-story mixed use project with a 25,000 square-foot commercial space for a PCC grocery market, 75 residential units, and 164 parking spaces. Since the April announcement of the project, neighborhood concerns about the development have coalesced in the form of a group called Save Madison Valley, who say they to have hired a land use attorney to help them shape the project. Members of the group were present at the May 17th meeting, sporting black Save Madison Valley t-shirts and ready to have their say on the Studio Meng Strazzara design.

The event — organized by Madison Valley Community Council, its president Lindy Wishard and Jeff Floor, a member the Central Area Land Use Review Committee (or LURC), an organization which seeks to facilitate dialogue between neighbors and developers working on projects in central Seattle—was an opportunity for architect Strazzara to explain his ideas for the project and show of preliminary graphic renderings with a powerpoint as well as take questions from the attendees and hear their input.

Floor from LURC asked the crowd to be respectful of the presentation after several outbursts from audience members . “Typically when we get a developer to show up it’s much closer to the EDG phase or after. And not all developers want to do it so I’m appreciative when they want to do it,” he said. Given the preliminary nature of the concept renderings featured in the presentation, Strazzara, Floor, and Wishard asked the audience not to take photos, a request that displeased some. “What’s respectful about not taking photos,” shouted one attendee. Continue reading

Seattle Central pursues rare opportunity to expand Broadway campus

The Site D development will tower over Capitol Hill Station's western Broadway entrance (Image: CHS)

The Site D development will tower over Capitol Hill Station’s western Broadway entrance (Image: CHS)

Capitol Hill’s community college is currently negotiating a deal that could bring a new technology center or on-campus faculty housing to its Broadway campus. It’s a rare opportunity for Seattle Central College to expand with building height departures already in place, made possible by the arrival of light rail on Capitol Hill.

Five sites surrounding Capitol Hill Station were acquired by Sound Transit for construction of the light rail facility — what’s left is to be transformed into dense “transit orientated development.” Four of those sites will be developed into housing, retail, and community space by Portland-based firm Gerding Edlen. SCC was given a right of first refusal to develop the fifth property, known as Site D, which surrounds the west entrance of the Capitol Hill Station at Broadway just south of Denny Way.

Representatives for Sound Transit and SCC have confirmed the two sides are working on a deal for the college to acquire the property, but offered few details on the status of the negotiations. In a 2015 report on its “major institution master plan” SCC said it was also working with developers to explore options for the site.

Dr. Sheila Edwards Lange, who was confirmed as SCC president in May, recently told CHS that creating faculty housing on Capitol Hill was a major priority. “Most faculty and staff cannot afford to live on Capitol Hill,” she said, According to Edwards Lange, the average faculty member at SCC makes around $57,000 a year. Continue reading

With squatter houses an issue across Hill, owners at 12th and John say demolition is coming

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Police checked a charred 12th Ave house for squatters Wednesday morning (Images: CHS)

Squatters - 4 of 10

It didn’t take long for squatters to find the three vacant houses at 12th and John after the properties were purchased by a Lynnwood developer in late 2014. Once the rent-paying tenants moved out, complaints and property violations started stacking up. Two fires broke out at houses during one week in January, apparently caused by trespassers. The latest property complaint was filed on Thursday.

City inspectors met with the Hardy Development Company last month to discuss ongoing issues at their properties, which are slated for a new 51-unit apartment building at 121 12th Ave E. Hardy promised to secure the houses and clean up the properties, but didn’t act soon enough.

It’s a problem across Capitol Hill. Since May 2015, paperwork for demolition has been filed for 41 different addresses on and around the Hill. 20 of those have been issued but the rest remain in process. Of the 20 permitted for demolition, many like the 12th and John properties still stand — empty except for the squatters that sometimes call the houses home. Continue reading

Value Village development could become next Capitol Hill ‘marketplace’

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Capitol Hill, the land of Seattle’s new ‘marketplaces,’ could be getting another indoor retail experience in the heart of Pike/Pine.

Thanks to its landmarks designation, current development designs for the former Value Village building on 11th Ave call for maintaining the expansive open floor plan in the building’s street level space. Developers from Legacy Commercial are exploring the possibility of transforming that 12,000-square-foot area into the type of food and retail destination most recently popularized by Chophouse Row just up the street.

“That is one of the options that has been discussed, but there is no decision on what type of tenants will occupy the space,” said Phillip Bozarth-Dreher, an architect on the project with Ankrom Moisan.

It has been over a year since plans to redevelop the The Stranger and Value Village buildings were stalled due to the 11th and E Pine buildings winning landmark status. Since then developers have ditched plans to build over The Stranger’s White Motor Company building and have focused on a 5-story office and retail project next-door at the 1918-built Kelly Springfield Motor Truck Company building. Continue reading

After years of pushback, Swedish Cherry Hill expansion plan set for approval

A process in its fourth year of shaping the development plans for the Central District’s Swedish Cherry Hill campus appears to have finally reached a conclusion. Monday afternoon, the full City Council is expected to approve the application for a new master plan and rezoning for the hospital and medical facilities at 500 17th Ave.

The approvals passed out of the Council’s planning committee two weeks ago in a “quasi-judicial” process following years of meetings and appeals against decisions in favor of the plan from Swedish and developer Sabey Corporation as neighborhood groups raised concerns about the size and scope of the planned expansion.

A 24-person citizens advisory committee was formed in late 2012, and, in the spring of 2015, announced their official disapproval of the MIMP with correcting recommendations. The MIMP was then tentatively approved by the city (after five days of hearings over the summer), after which seven separate appeals were filed by the likes of the Squire Park Community Council, the Cherry Hill Community Council and several CAC members. Issues driving the appellants include the proposed height increases, the impacts on neighborhood parking, and the expansion’s consistency with the city’s comprehensive growth plan. Finally this spring. Alternative 12 received the blessing of the City council committee.

Amendments to attempt to address lingering concerns and, according to Council member Lisa Herbold’s staff, “intended to a. make the mass of institutional structures more compatible with the neighborhood and b. create a more gradual transition from more intensive zones to less intensive zones” were approved by the committee:

(1) Western block Amendment: reduces the maximum allowable MIO height to 125’, resulting in approximately 98.400 s.f. reduction or about 6%.

(2) Eastern Block Height Amendment: Conditions a portion of this half-block down to zero feet.

If approved by the full Council, Monday’s votes will pave the way for Swedish to add an additional 1.5 million square feet to the 1.3 acre Cherry Hill Campus.

Increasing sewer problems can be a nasty nuisance for older Capitol Hill buildings

During a busy night a Nacho Borracho, the Capitol Hill bar’s plumbing was having a tough time keeping up with the margarita drinking crowd. When the problem persisted the following night, owner Rachel Marshall knew something was up.

The culprit turned out to be the roots of a Broadway tree that had obstructed the building’s sewer pipe connecting to a city sewer main. To fix it, a plumber had to cut up the sidewalk and replace part of the pipe. The bill came to a whopping $35,000, according to Marshall. Luckily for her, the building’s property owner picked up the tab. “It was an awfully good piece of news,” she said.

While the cost of Nacho Borracho’s repair was unusually high, similar sewer repairs are becoming increasingly common around Capitol Hill. As buildings age, so do the original pipes that connect homes and commercial properties to the city’s sewer system. Eventually these so-called side sewer lines crack or even worse, become blocked causing raw sewage to spill out in all the wrong places. Fixing the lines can be costly and a massive inconvenience.

In recent years, plumbers have been increasingly busy fixing side sewer lines around Capitol Hill. According to city permit data, there were 114 side sewer permits issued around Capitol Hill in 2011. In 2015, side sewer activity more than doubled to 241 issued permits. It’s a citywide trend in a Seattle that turns 163 this May 23rd. Continue reading

Here’s the plan to make room for 120,000 more Seattleites by 2035

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 5.29.13 PMLast year around this time, CHS posted about four alternatives being weighed as the City of Seattle prepared to update is 20-year plan. Ed Murray’s office has now prepared the mayor’s recommended Seattle 2035 plan and is ready to move it forward with City Council to guide the development of neighborhoods across the city in the coming decades. Here’s what Mayor Murray has to say about the framework his administration is championing:

Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation and while this growth provides a booming economy, we must continue to focus that development in livable, walkable neighborhoods with the amenities that help people thrive. With this comprehensive plan, we will build a more equitable future for all residents with better access to the affordable homes, jobs, transit, and parks that make Seattle vibrant.

City officials are shaping the plan to accommodate an expected 120,000 additional people living in Seattle by 2035, around an 18% increase from the current population. The planning process included racial and social equity factors, environmental management, and job and economic factors and builds on Seattle’s “urban village” strategy which “encourages most future job and housing growth to specific areas in the city that are best able to absorb and capitalize on that growth.”

The recommended plan is focused on six high level policies and goals, according to the mayor’s announcement:

  1. Guide more future growth to areas within a 10-minute walk of frequent transit
  2. Continue the Plan’s vision for mixed-use Urban Villages and Urban Centers
  3. Monitor future growth in greater detail, including data about racial disparities
  4. Increase the supply and diversity of affordable housing consistent with the Mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA)
  5. Update how we measure the performance of the city’s transportation and parks systems
  6. Integrate the City’s planning for parks, preschool, transit, housing, transportation, City facilities and services

The comprehensive plan originally adopted in 1994 was last updated in 2004. The policy document is now in the hands of the Seattle City Council for review, a public hearing, and approval by the end of the year. You can learn more at 2035.seattle.gov.

The full recommended plan is embedded below. Continue reading

Design review overhaul: Rule on fewer projects, put meetings online, split Capitol Hill at Pine

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 2.19.56 PMSeattle’s process for gathering public and expert feedback on new building designs is poised to undergo the most significant update since it was established in 1994. For starters, we may be saying goodbye to the East Design Review Board.

Under changes proposed by a 16-member advisory group to Seattle’s design review program, the East DRB jurisdiction, which covers Capitol Hill, would be sliced between three new areas in order to lump the neighborhood’s high-rise zones with a new Central DRB that would also cover First Hill. Capitol Hill would be divided along E Pine, with the north half coming under a new Northeast DRB and the south half going to a new Southeast DRB.

“I think it makes sense that there be a more high-rise focused designed review board,” said Amanda Bryan, member of the Central Area Land Use Advisory Committee who also sat on the advisory panel. “I think (the boundaries) will move around depending on how people feel about it.” Continue reading