Housing Demand a hot topic

The availability of affordable housing in King County is at the forefront of public policy discussions today, according to Dr. Stephen O’Connor of the Runstad Center for real estate studies at the University of Washington. O’Connor said this is an issue on the front pages of many major urban cities. Seattle needs to have a plan to meet the frenzied demand for housing, or our city runs the risk of becoming as exclusive as San Francisco.

20150318_110414_webO’Connor’s presentation, Housing Demand and Affordability Trends, was a free seminar for REALTORS® organized by the Affiliate Council of the Seattle King County REALTORS. Dr. O’Connor gave a unique perspective on the King County market, after over 30 years in the affordable housing industry on the East Coast.

O’Connor (pictured here with Patti Hill, 2015 SKCR President-Elect) noted the growing number of multi-family building permits in Seattle, but said the pace of development, even in our hot market, was not keeping up with the volume of constructed units we saw from 2005 to 2007. An indication of that growth is the 10,000 new drivers licenses issued in King County this year. He also noted that while the affordability remains good for most Seattle households, this is due largely to the advantages of the 30 year mortgage and the comparatively high median household income in Seattle of $89,600. The affordability index for first time buyers only is much lower.

O’Connor also warned that King County needs a housing demand strategy that is more than just shuttling more modest incomes up and down the I-5 corridor to Snohomish and Pierce counties. “It’s like a tube of toothpaste, when you squeeze the middle the paste goes to either end.” He noted that housing planners should take greater advantage of the light rail line already constructed, because it offers opportunity for high density residential development.

“Building affordable housing is really tough,” O’Connor concluded. “Even when you overcome neighborhood objections and other restrictions, the cost is still the cost.”