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Affordable apartments on Capitol Hill? New Seattle housing plan due this summer

Are these the people who will deliver affordable apartments on Capitol Hill? Mike O'Brien, far right (for only time in his life) says yes

Are these the people who will deliver affordable apartments on Capitol Hill? Mike O’Brien, far right (for only time in his life) says yes (Image: Seattle City Council via Flickr)

As the minimum wage debate rolls on in Seattle, it’s worth remembering the underlying premise at play: working people ought to be able to afford some basic standard of living on their hard-earned wages in an increasingly expensive city. One way to meet that goal is to increase wages, another way is to hem the cost of living.

“Every day the challenge is growing, people are struggling to survive,” Seattle City Council member Mike O’Brien, who is leading an effort to enact a comprehensive affordable housing plan in Seattle, tells CHS. “There’s a sense of urgency, that puts a lot of pressure on this process to come up with some results as soon as possible, but we also need to be strategic.”

CHS previously reported on the City Council’s February Workforce Housing Forum, where experts from outside Seattle gathered to discuss how their respective cities have developed affordable housing. Broadening Seattle’s limited incentive zoning program and creating a corporate housing fund were just a couple of ideas floated at the forum.

The effort stems from a 2013 ordinance where the City Council promised “a thorough review and update of Seattle’s incentive zoning and other affordable housing program and policies.”

The council is now awaiting the results of three studies, expected to arrive in May, looking at the possibilities in Seattle. O’Brien told CHS he’s committed to developing and passing a plan by the end of summer.

For many workers, and particularly those on Capitol Hill, a huge percentage of their income goes towards housing. To get an idea of where Capitol Hill stands, we went to Cragislist. We looked at 70 of the cheapest studios listed on Craigslist for Capitol Hill from February 24-March 3. The average median rent was (conveniently) just about $1,000. A full time minimum wage worker makes roughly $1,500 a month (40 hour weeks) in Seattle, meaning they would spend 66% of their income on a median priced studio on Capitol Hill.

10th Ave E's newly opened Gatsby Apartments (Image: CHS)

10th Ave E’s newly opened Gatsby Apartments (Image: CHS)

Housing is generally considered affordable at or below 30% of income, so a current minimum wage earner would need to work about 81 hours to “afford” a median priced studio on Capitol Hill. (Working 40-hour weeks at $15 an hour, a worker would take home roughly $2,400, making the median Capitol Hill studio close to, but not quite, affordable.)

Meanwhile, a building boom continues around Capitol Hill with analysts at Kidder Matthews forecasting that 1,200 apartment units will have entered the market in the area in the 2013-2014 period.

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The February housing forum at City Hall divided into two tracks towards addressing affordable housing: incentive zoning and everything else.

Incentive zoning, currently only used in South Lake Union, allows developers to increase the height of their buildings if low-income housing units are also constructed. If the developers choose to opt out of providing low-cost housing on-site while still using the incentive program, developers can instead pay a fee to the city.

Under the current model, incentive zoning for affordable housing can only be expanded after a neighborhood-wide up-zone. Lowering the barrier for expanding the program and increasing the developer’s opt-out fee are both on the table. Other options may include expanding microhousing, allowing for more backyard cottages and splitting lots, or increasing fees on developers who opt out of an incentive zoning offer.

Part of the housing solution might be figuring out how we turn Capitol Hill’s most distinguishing neighborhood feature into an affordable housing asset.

“There’s a tension [in Seattle] between more density or affordable housing,” O’Brien said. “In every other jursidiction, it’s density and affordable housing, they go hand in hand.”

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44 thoughts on “Affordable apartments on Capitol Hill? New Seattle housing plan due this summer

  1. Move to the Southend or lake city or west seattle or shoreline. No one deserves to live in a hot hip neighborhood. I’d like to live in the highlands or capital hill but I live in lake city in a nice one bedroom for less then $1000. That’s what I can afford. Go get an education so you can get a better job and make more money

    • Thank you. Just because people want to be closer to the nice bars and restaurants doesn’t mean anyone owes them cheaper housing. People don’t want to live frugally. I did and worked retail and was able to pay off debt so I could actually afford the living and life I want.

    • Well-said, Scott! There seems to be a sense of entitlement among some people that they should be able to live wherever they want, regardless of their income. Get real! If you can’t afford to live in a certain area, you can’t afford it….so either make more money, or live in an area you can afford.

      • There’s a lot more at play than a sense of entitlement. Moving to the Southend or West Seattle or Lake City simply isn’t an option for a lot of folks (myself included.) I work downtown, and have chosen to cut expenses by getting rid of my car. Capitol Hill, the CD, and other centrally located (and thus expensive) neighborhoods are thereby the most accessible.

        I also have a full time job which thankfully pays enough that I can afford a small studio. But with other expenses (student loans, alimony- yay getting married and divorced young!), money is still tight. Not all of us are entitled. Get off your high horse. Everybody has a different story- do you really want a homogenous neighborhood full of rich people?

      • Scott, Nick and Calhoun, people who work hard every day to improve a community should have the opportunity to live there. Nurses, teachers, social workers, clerks and public servants work hard every day to make Capitol Hill and surrounding communities a thriving place to live. They should not be forced to leave their community at the end of the day because of the size of their paycheck, especially if they were born and raised in this community.

        Shouldn’t the nurse who is about to help you during your triple bypass surgery live close to the hospital where she works on First Hill? Or would you rather she get an hour less of sleep every day and live in Lake City?

      • We already have one of those on the other side of Lake Washington. It’s called Bellevue.

        Just kidding, but if that’s what you really want for the Hill, that’s sad.

      • Wow stop looking down your nose at people. My friends and I are all recent college graduates and have jobs. But right out of school none of us our CEO yet. So with student loans and working downtown we need something close and affordable. Not everyone is rich like you guys. So stop judging and looking down your noses. Be careful that you guys don’t get a nose bleed with your heads so high. Or that you don’t fall off those high horses.

      • Surprise!…there are busses which take people from the Southend, West Seattle, and Lake City to downtown Seattle. So why isn’t that an option for you? A lot of people commute to their job from neighborhoods they can afford.

      • What would be a 15-20 minute commute by car becomes a 1-1.5 hour commute by bus, which is also unreliable. If you are working shift work and spending 2-3 hours per day additionally commuting, that’s a huge time constraint. Especially if you have a child or are attempting to work multiple jobs to meet necessities. The unreliability and budget cuts to Metro make this extra risky because you don’t even know when you’re going to get to work

    • What about those of us that have lived here since before it was the hip neighborhood? Moving isn’t cheap, and you can’t always find another place you can afford that is on bus lines to your work.

  2. trust me, id love to move. i have no entitlement folks, i lived on capitol hill because of the job i had. that changed and rent went up. i now work in SLU and walk 4 miles round trip to work. i have applied to plenty of jobs, but hear nothing back despite being totally qualified. i make $1600 a month and rent and utilities are still $1250. after food costs that doesn’t leave much for saving to pay the moving costs of a new place, much less the commute to my current job from lake city or south seattle. i live as frugally as i can, have zero debt, never go to bars or restaurants, never buy new clothes or waste money. so please, keep your assumptions to yourselves.

  3. Gotta love the folks that jump to the end conclusion that 1. Everyone is financially, intellectually or otherwise capable of getting an advanced education and earning substantially more. Because duh, there’s endless high paying jobs and opportunities for the qualified folks who are already fighting for those jobs (sarcasm) and 2. Who forget that WE NEED LOW WAGE WORKERS. Just because someone lacks the wherewithal you feel is required to have quality of life doesn’t mean they should have to illegally live 5 to a 1 bedroom, work multiple jobs & take three buses to work. Working FT should mean that you’ve given enough of yourself to earn staying afloat, regardless of what you do. Being “less than” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have adequate, clean, affordable housing in the area in which you’ve chosen to reside for what ever reason. The individuals who are lucky enough to possess higher educations and therefore high paying careers are going to have MORE. More vacations (vs. none), more quality belongings, fancier and larger residences on better blocks. The fact you were born into privilege or with excess talent and drive does not mean that Jane Janitor shouldn’t have a clean, decent 2 bedroom apartment on her low wage job with her kids. Things happen in life that put people in all kinds of different scenarios they didn’t anticipate, the answer isn’t “well you shouldn’t have kids if you don’t make top dollar”, nor is it “if you’re not capable of earning over 60k a year, then you don’t deserve to live near your work or in a place that shouldn’t be condemned”. We have an issue in which we’re judging everyone by the same standards of ability and capability plus the same needs and financial situation. You’re not likely living within your ideal means if you’re making less than $20/hr in this city (even the outskirts of it), and there’s plenty of jobs posted that want to give you far less than that and require you’ve got a bachelors degree and five years experience. Yes, a fast food job might be a teenagers “fun” income and another co-workers raising a kid income, maybe we should pay people depending on their need? or should the government subsidize it? This isn’t an impossible problem, just a difficult one. Raising the minimum wage to $15 will clearly take those out-of-reach $1,000 a month 0-1 bedroom units even farther out of reach. My uneducated opinion is that we need to cut the cost of living and trim fat from the top, not pad the bottom and continue the cycle.

    • SA, I definitely agree with your position that everyone who works hard every day should have the opportunity to live in the neighborhood where they work.

      I disagree with your statement that people with college degrees or higher educations are necessarily going to have higher paying careers. In my family the opposite is true. The people with the most advanced degrees are earning the least amount of money. Whereas, the tech genius without a GED is a millionaire.

      People work hard and spend huge amounts of money on degrees thinking that their high GPA from a good university will likely provide them with a living wage. Today, the only absolute guarantee is that you will graduate with college debt. No college graduate is guaranteed a living wage after they graduate though, on average, the chances are higher that they may obtain one. Today, 1/3 of workers making minimum wage have some college education, a higher percentage than at any time in history. And the percentage is growing rapidly. Many intelligent, hard working people who have played by the rules and dedicated their entire lives to improving their communities can no longer afford to live in the city or neighborhood where they grew up.

  4. also the calculation that someone who works full time at min. wage is misleading. thats approx. $1500 BEFORE tax. you can’t pay rent with pre-tax earnings.

    • the calculation for what someone working for 40 hours at $15/hr is wrong as well. $2400 is gross pre-tax. who’s doing the math around here?

  5. This City Council is so out of control. I’d like to live in a Mansion on N. Capitol Hill. I wonder if Sawant and some of these other Hugo Chavez types will help me get a hold of one of those houses. Because I deserve it ya know..

    • Michelle, nobody is asking for a mansion. Many workers today would be very happy to keep the housing they have or to have other options in their neighborhood when their landlord raises their rent. In San Francisco, people with 6-figure salaries are scrounging for roommates who can help pay their $5,000 a month rent bill for a humble two bedroom apartment. Lets hope that Seattle can quickly adopt different affordable housing strategies so that workers in every industry can continue to call Seattle home.

    • Why are rents rising? Supply and Demand.

      The city council is full of a bunch of bureaucrats with no experience in business, just sitting in their little Politburo trying to dictate what the market should bear on rent, wages ,etc.

      I have no doubt the council will add layers and layers of more regulation that 1. encourages only high end buildings are built 2. Encourages creation of Condos over new units of Apartments, further tightening supply.

      The red guard will run around with their little books and tell you they will solve the problems with Rent control, $15 wages for low skill jobs, meanwhile no one will build anymore rent-able housing and companies will do more with less staff.

  6. I’ve lived on Capitol Hill since 1991, and work at a non-profit. I have a college degree.
    I’m not living here because it’s become popular or trendy recently, I’m living here because this is where I’ve chosen to make my home. Unfortunately, that reality is beginning to fade. That reality was my life, I’m a part of this community, my neighbors all know me, and I know them, and the neighbor and its history.
    For many years, I had two jobs or more (and yes, one was f/t). I felt fortunate to be able to “cut back” to my one f/t job about three years ago, but prices are still rising, so may not be able to keep that “luxury”. I don’t go out to bars and restaurants in the the neighborhood (unless you count a slice of pizza or the like), only buy 2nd hand or thrifted clothes, no vacations for 3+ years, etc, etc.
    To create a vibrant urban neighborhood, a diverse population is necessary, economically, socially, racially, etc.
    And at this point, I would move, if I could afford it. I’m tired of being told I don’t deserve to live here. Or that I’m entitled (?). Or that I need to get a degree, or a better degree, or just get a better job. Wouldn’t everyone do that if it was so easy and readily available? And not everyone can be a business owner or manager (instead of an admin. asst.), a chef (instead of a waiter of busboy), a code writer (instead of the mailroom clerk), etc, etc. If individuals aren’t ambitious and constantly striving to climb the ladder, that’s fine too, an experienced support team is a valuable asset to any business. And these people enrich a community as well, as those in higher tax brackets.
    And who would be working the low paying jobs, if everyone who can’t afford it just moves further out? Not your neighbors, but people from Tukwila, Bothell, Shoreline, etc. And if they can make your espresso here after commuting an hour in each direction, then why wouldn’t they just choose to work in the area where they actually now live instead?
    People earning less than 30-40k/yr are equal to those earning more. No one is more or less deserving, or entitled, by their income – only their attitude.

      • I have no interest in owning a condo. My interests, goals and desires are not yours. It makes me no less committed to living here. I’ve known condo owning people who have come and gone in the time I have resided here. Putting a ring on it doesn’t make it stick. You have suggested that because I did not purchase property, that I am not committed to live here, despite my many years of residence? Do you realize how little logic that makes? People live in parts of Manhattan for decades without buying.
        And I realize I am most likely responding to a troll.
        Were you interested in any of this? I doubt it very much. The internet makes it easy to post quick one-off remarks, pass judgements, and ask questions that just skim the surface.

    • Does it really make sense to continue to live in a neighborhood where rent/prices are at a level (compared to your income) that preclude you from enjoying some of life’s pleasures, such as an occasional vacation? Why not move somewhere where your fixed costs are more affordable? Buy, hey, it’s your choice to stay in a more expensive neighborhood and spend most of your income on basic needs.

      • This is my home. I didn’t move to an expensive neighborhood, nor would I. It came to me.
        My co-worker has chosen to live in Tacoma and commute to Seattle daily. Initially, she was bragging about how little and she and her boyfriend were paying for rent. Now two months later, all she shares is complaints about the long commute by bus or train. She has spent up to an hour and a half in each direction at times, that’s three hours a day. Now she’s miserable.
        If I was to make a move such as that, I would also choose to work in that area. But more importantly, I have absolutely no interest in living in Tacoma or Shoreline, etc.
        When I leave, it will be for good. And what does make sense, Calhoun? So very little of life.

      • I agree with you. Living further out might be cheaper in terms of housing, but the cost of the commute, both in time and money, will rise. I get really tired of hearing people say “move if you can’t afford it”. Moving is expensive in and of itself. We need affordable housing close to downtown, and the Hill is one place where it needs to be.

  7. Is anything going to be done about part time students with assisted rent packages being evicted when they become a full time student? oh, and of course, becoming a full time student violates the lease so you also loose your security deposit!!

    How backwards is that!!!

    Lets just keep students struggling in school forever

  8. Seattle needs more light rail or subway so people can more easily commute. Everyone who works downtown, and don’t want to drive are squeezing into the hill, which naturally drives up the cost of living here. I’d rather pay taxes for real public transportation that benefits thousands of people and cut down CO2 than to legislate some sort of rent control that only benefits a privileged few in the end. The lightrail is a great start but we definitely need more. And how about investing in building affordable housing in south seattle by the light rail? Land will be more affordable than the hill which makes it more realistic. This city will only grow more in the coming years, let’s be less myopic and look beyond cap hill.

  9. I am so tired of these rich tech people acting superior. Many of us have advanced degrees but don’t make advanced wages. Many of us have devoted years to this neighborhood and deserve to stay without being booted out by newcomers. Some of these rich newcomers are imported foreign workers who are guests in the country throwing us out of our own neighborhood. You wonder why people hate some of the techies? You treat the rest of us like garbage. You’re not better because you have tech skills. You’re not more deserving. Not everyone has the aptitude for that, and men in tech are rewarded at far higher rates than women who struggle to make it in a field dominated by the old boy’s club. We’re not all men. People who treat other people poorly shouldn’t expect to get any respect. Play nice or go back to the holes you came out of. (There are nice tech/wealthy people who don’t behave like absolute monsters. This is not aimed at you.)

    • I understand your frustration, but it is not the well-paid tech workers who are “throwing you out of your neighborhood.” It is the greedy/opportunistic landlords who are doing this by raising rents, so your anger would be better directed at them.

    • Blame the landlords and not the “rich techies.” You also seem a little hostile towards the imported foreign workers that are a guest in your country. You sit and preach about hate, but your statements seem a little hateful.

      • I realize that landlords are part of the problem. I realize that if they raise the rent people with more money come in. The landlords are not, however, responsible for these obnoxious statements made by these entitled people saying that we no longer deserve to live in our own neighborhoods. I am also not a hater of foreign people. I do believe that guest workers should also not say that people who already live in this neighborhood and are citizens of this country are less entitled to live in Capitol Hill than they are. This is an important distinction.

      • Can you please cite some examples of “foreign people” (or anyone else, for that matter) saying that you do not “deserve” to live in Capitol Hill? I am not aware of any such statements, and frankly your comments smack of xenophobia.

        Yes, some here (and elsewhere) are pointing out that, if rents are such that they eat up a large portion of your income, then you might consider moving to a more affordable neighborhood. But that is a very different thing than saying you are not “deserving” of living here. Of course you are, if you can afford it, or even if you’re not….it’s your choice to spend your money as you wish.

      • Calhoun, techies and other new residents of the neighborhood who are economically pushing out longtime residents frequently make comments on this very blog saying that if we are not rich we do not deserve to live in this neighborhood and should move. You yourself suggest we all move out to the far reaches and bus in (on buses which are becoming increasingly expensive)

        As far as xenophobic, I see around me the rich tech workers who are pushing us out of the neighborhood and I have heard some of them comment (in local coffee shops etc) to the same effect. It is not xenophobic to say that guest workers behave poorly when they try to displace the hosts in the country they are visiting. You can’t discount my argument by crying racism or xenophobia no matter how sensational that might be. There are real issues here, and I am nothing of the sort.

      • I am a regular reader of this blog, and have seen no comments from “foreign workers” along the lines you are describing.

        And I repeat, guest/tech workers are not “trying to displace the hosts in the country they are visiting.” Your ire need to be directed at landlords who are raising rents because there is a market which will go long with that, and not at the workers, who are simply trying to land a good job and live in an area they can afford.

  10. Here’s the thing. Not everyone is trying to be the next Donald Trump or Oprah Winfrey. Today, we are so bombarded with this new image of the American dream which is get rich, buy stuff, and star in a reality show. Do we all want nice things? Maybe, or at least our own interpretation of it.
    I know plenty people who are content with working a 9-5 and getting their paper just to live a simple comfortable life. And I want more than just a marriage, a kid, and a white picket fence, but I don’t want the richie-rich lifestyle either. We are all different. We are not all chasing the same thing. Some folks like minivans, some like private jets, some like walking. And this city will be a poorer place when only one type of person lives here.

  11. Pingback: What happens when 88 affordable apartments join thousands more less affordable apartments coming to Capitol Hill? | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

  12. to address the many foolish statements above ; In regards of living circumstances for internships, artists and other community oriented affiliations, housing for up and coming students and early professionals cannot be measured by wealth alone. Remember that culture is created by people who sacrifice money for time dedicated to expression. Its not about living by”cool” bars.

  13. Pingback: Hill’s rents continue to soar as council delays Seattle affordable housing plan | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle