NW REporter

News In Brief: July 2022

  • The Emerald City boasts the third-fastest-rising rent year over year in the country, according to a new report from Redfin. The Seattle-based real estate company found the median monthly asking rent in the United States in May surpassed $2,000 a month for the first time, up 15.2 percent year over year and 2 percent month over month. Seattle, Austin, Nashville and Cincinnati all saw increases of more than 30 percent since last year. The median asking rent in Seattle is $3,097 per month, according to Redfin. Austin leads the country with a 48-percent surge in median asking rent year over year, followed by Nashville (32), Seattle (32) and Cincinnati (32), Miami (29), Fort Lauderdale (29), West Palm Beach, Fla. (29) and New York (24). Milwaukee (-10), Kansas City (-3) and Minneapolis (-3) were the only metros that saw declines in asking rent. In addition to rent and mortgages, Washingtonians are paying more for all household bills than most other states. According to a report from doxo, a Seattle-based software company, Washington is the ninth-most expensive state in the country for household bills, which include rent/mortgage, car loan, car insurance, utilities, internet and cable, cell phone, health insurance and more. Hawaii, California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, New York and Alaska rank Nos. 1-8, respectively. Nebraska, Alabama, New Mexico, South Dakota and Oklahoma, respectively, are the five least expensive states for household bills.
  • How does Washington state rank for drivers? According to a recent WalletHub comparison of the best and worst states to drive in, aggressive driving isn’t the only issue on Washington’s roads. WalletHub looked at 31 metrics of positive driving experiences including congestion, commute lengths, the number of rainy days and the increase in freeway traffic, and found Washington is the nation’s sixth worst state for drivers. Washington placed 35th among the 50 states in rush-hour congestion, 42nd in auto maintenance costs, 43rd in auto theft rates, 44th in road quality and 47th in average gas prices, the analysis found.
  • Bankrate, a consumer finance company, ranked the best cities in the country for first-time homebuyers, and Seattle placed No. 48. The third-worst ranking is based on affordability, employment factors, housing market tightness, safety and wellness and culture. Only Los Angeles and Las Vegas finished below Seattle. Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Kansas City and Buffalo ranked Nos. 1-5, respectively, as the best metros for first-time homebuyers. “Seattle tied for 5th in wellness and culture with Salt Lake City and ranked 22nd in employment factors, but came in at 5th worst in affordability (46), tied for 5th worst in housing market tightness (45) with Boston, and tied for 15th worst in safety (34) with Denver and Jacksonville,” the report said. Click here for the full report from Bankrate.
  • A pair of small cities in Washington state were ranked in the top 10 – more accurately, the top six – in the country among the best cities for small businesses. According to Go.Verizon.com’s fifth annual report, Richland is the second-best city in the United States to run a small business, while Olympia ranks sixth. The report used six metrics for the report: education level of the local workforce, in-city commute times, income per capita, broadband access, availability of SBA loans and overall tax friendliness. Click here for the full report. In other Washington state rankings, the Evergreen state was named the seventh-most fun state in America, according to a new WalletHub study. The criteria for the ranking was based on restaurants per capita (Washington placed 11th), movie theaters per capita (ninth), golf courses and country clubs per capita (30th), performing-arts theaters per capita (ninth), fitness centers per capita (12th), access to national parks (19th), casinos per capita (12th) and variety of arts, entertainment and recreation establishments (29th). California, Florida, Nevada, New York, Illinois and Colorado ranked Nos. 1-6, respectively. Oregon claimed the No. 11 slot. Arkansas, Rhode Island, Delaware, Mississippi and West Virginia ranked Nos. 46-50, respectively. Click here for the full WalletHub study.
  • An appellate court judge has upheld Seattle’s payroll tax, affirming a decision made in King County Superior Court last year. In an opinion published on June 22, the Division I Court of Appeals deemed Seattle’s JumpStart tax lawful, according to a published report. “Engaging in business is a substantial privilege on which the city may properly levy taxes,” the opinion reads. “And the use of a business’s payroll expense is an appropriate measure of that taxable incident.” The tax, passed by the Seattle City Council in 2020, requires businesses with at least $7 million in annual payroll to pay between 0.7%-2.4% on salaries and wages paid to Seattle employees who make at least $150,000 per year. The highest rate is applied to salaries of at least $400,000 at companies with at least $1 billion in annual payroll. In 2021, the tax brought $231 million in revenue to the city. The lawsuit, filed by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce in December 2020, asked the King County Superior Court to strike down the tax, calling it illegal. The lawsuit was dismissed by a King County Superior Court judge last summer, and the chamber appealed the decision. The chamber in a statement said it will review the latest decision and determine their next step with members and attorneys.
  • Facebook will change its algorithms to prevent discriminatory housing advertising and its parent company will subject itself to court oversight to settle a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, according to a report by KOMO News. In a release, U.S. government officials said it had reached agreement with Meta Platforms Inc., formerly known as Facebook Inc., to settle the lawsuit filed simultaneously in Manhattan federal court. According to the release, it was the Justice Department’s first case challenging algorithmic discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. Facebook will now be subject to Justice Department approval and court oversight for its ad targeting and delivery system. U.S. Attorney Damian Williams called the lawsuit “groundbreaking.” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke called it “historic.” According to terms of the settlement, Facebook will stop using an advertising tool for housing ads that the government said employed a discriminatory algorithm to locate users who “look like” other users based on characteristics protected by the Fair Housing Act, the Justice Department said. By Dec. 31, Facebook must stop using the tool once called “Lookalike Audience,” which relies on an algorithm that the U.S. said discriminates on the basis of race, sex and other characteristics. Facebook also will develop a new system over the next half-year to address racial and other disparities caused by its use of personalization algorithms in its delivery system for housing ads, it said. If the new system is inadequate, the settlement agreement can be terminated, the Justice Department said. Per the settlement, Meta also must pay a penalty of just over $115,000. The announcement comes after Facebook already agreed in March 2019 to overhaul its ad-targeting systems to prevent discrimination in housing, credit and employment ads as part of a legal settlement with a group including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Fair Housing Alliance and others. The changes announced then were designed so that advertisers who wanted to run housing, employment or credit ads would no longer be allowed to target people by age, gender or zip code. The Justice Department said that the 2019 settlement reduced the potentially discriminatory targeting options available to advertisers but failed to resolve other problems, including Facebook’s discriminatory delivery of housing ads through machine-learning algorithms.
  • The city of Kirkland plans to redevelop the newly purchased Houghton Village shopping area with a focus on affordable housing and community services. The $14 million purchase with an eye toward housing and public services is the first of its kind in Kirkland and, city officials say, reflects in part how the city is preparing for an influx of growth and development on the Eastside. The Kirkland City Council voted earlier in June to begin soliciting input from residents on the future use of the site. The property, which the city bought last month, has 17,530 square feet of building space on 2.2 acres in south Kirkland at 10702 N.E. 68th St. Houghton Village had been anchored by PCC Community Markets, but the regional food cooperative closed that location earlier this year. The city bought the site from a Kirkland owner who acquired the property in 1988, according to King County property records. The city paid for the shopping area using a three-year interfund loan and plans to come up with a long-term financing plan for when the loan expires. Beth Goldberg, Kirkland’s deputy city manager for operations, said it will take at least three years to finalize the redevelopment plans. There are about 10 tenants, including a teriyaki restaurant, cat rescue and dry cleaner, and the city has told them they are welcome to stay, Goldberg said. City officials haven’t decided what types of service providers may be housed at the new development, or what threshold they’ll use to determine “affordable” housing in an area where the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $2,000.   City officials have stressed, however, that the development won’t be used for permanent supportive housing, like the La Quinta Inn & Suites that King County bought earlier this year to provide subsidized housing for people who are chronically homeless.
  • Amazon said it is providing $23 million to help minority-led organizations build or preserve more than 500 new affordable housing units in Seattle – the latest spending by a tech company to ease a severe housing crunch the industry has helped create. The commitment comes from Amazon’s Housing Equity Fund, a $2 billion initiative launched in January 2021. The fund has so far invested more than $1.2 billion to create or preserve over 8,000 affordable homes across three regions where the company has offices: the Puget Sound in Washington state; Arlington, Virginia; and Nashville, Tennessee. The Amazon Housing Equity Fund offers grants and low-rate loans to housing providers that create or preserve affordable homes, with an emphasis on supporting households earning 30% to 80% of an area’s median income. The new investments are the fund’s first in Seattle proper, though it previously has put money toward housing elsewhere in the region, including near transit stations in SeaTac and Bellevue. Amazon is working with three organizations – the Mount Baker Housing Authority, El Centro de la Raza and Gardner Global – on four housing projects, totaling 568 units in south Seattle neighborhoods that feature large populations of people of color and which have rapidly gentrified or are at risk of it. Three of the four projects involved will be affordable for those making up to 60% of the area median income – that’s $54,350 for a single person or $77,650 for a family of four, according to the Seattle Office of Housing. The fourth, a new apartment building by Black-owned Gardner Global with 122 units, mostly studio and one-bedroom, will serve those who earn up to 80% of the area median income, or $66,750 for a single person.
  • For nearly 30 years, Seattle has directed growth using its “urban village” strategy. Now, a new round of planning at City Hall will determine whether the future takes a different shape. Seattle’s Office of Planning and Community Development on Thursday released a draft set of growth strategies it plans to study later this year. The ideas are an early step in updating the city’s Comprehensive Plan, the blueprint that guides where new jobs, housing and other development will be directed during the next 20 years. Seattle is required to plan for a minimum of 80,000 new housing units and 132,000 new jobs over the next two decades. But a city-commissioned report says even more homes will be necessary to make a dent in housing affordability. That analysis found the city would need at least 152,000 more market-rate units in the next 25 years to accommodate more middle-income households. And, even in that scenario, Seattle would still face a shortage of tens of thousands of units of affordable housing for people with the lowest incomes. The new planning options lay out ways the city could continue with or move beyond its urban-village strategy as planners figure out how to accommodate that new growth. A racial equity analysis last year recommended the city allow more housing types outside of urban villages. The options released Thursday are, for now, high level and vague. They range from maintaining the status quo to opening new areas of the city to new types of housing:
    • Alternative 1, “No Action,” would maintain the city’s current urban village strategy “with no change to land use patterns.” Most areas outside urban villages would remain off-limits for significantly denser housing. State law requires the city to study a “no action” option.
    • Alternative 2, “Focused,” would add new or expanded urban villages and possibly new “smaller nodes” of growth. 
    • Alternative 3, “Broad,” would allow triplexes and fourplexes in areas that are today zoned mostly for detached single-family homes. (The city recently renamed these areas “Neighborhood Residential” zones.) 
    • Alternative 4, “Corridor,” would allow options such as triplexes and fourplexes only along corridors near frequent transit.
    • Alternative 5, “Combined,” would meld several of the other options to allow different types of housing along transit corridors and outside urban villages.
  • In an initial round of public feedback, city planners are looking for input on whether they’re studying the right strategies. Later, they’ll study each alternative and look for comments on the meat of the matter: where new housing should be built. Feedback on the draft alternatives is due by July 25. The city expects to publish its draft environmental study and take more public comment next year. In 2024, the mayor would choose his preference and the City Council would vote. City staff will host virtual meetings at 11 a.m. on June 29 and 7 p.m. on July 19. Find more information and submit feedback at engage.oneseattleplan.com or by email to brennon.staley@seattle.gov.
  • The Seattle area, which includes Bellevue and Tacoma, is building homes at the 13th-fastest rate among United States large metros, per a new report published on KOMO News. According to the report from the Inspection Support Network (ISN), for every 1,000 existing homes in the Seattle area in 2021, 19 new housing units were authorized, up from 12.5 new units nationally. There were 30,743 new housing units authorized in the Seattle area in 2021, according to ISN. The median home price in the area is $791,933, per the ISN report. Austin, Nashville, Raleigh, Jacksonville, Orlando, Charlotte, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Houston, Phoenix, Denver and San Antonio ranked Nos. 1-12, respectively.