NW REporter

News In Brief: November 2022

  • The Highline Public Schools Bond (Proposition 1) earned unanimous endorsement from Seattle King County REALTORS® (SKCR). The measure, which seeks to raise nearly $518.4 million and needs a 60% yes vote to pass, will be on the November 8 General Election ballot. The Realtor endorsement followed a presentation by district and campaign committee representatives and discussion by members of the association’s Governmental & Public Affairs Committee. If approved, the construction bond will provide funds to rebuild three schools and fund district-wide repairs and upgrades. The projects were recommended by a 40-member Capital Facilities Advisory Committee as part of a plan to replace aging buildings with safe, modern learning facilities. The three schools slated for rebuilding – Evergreen High School, Tyee High School and Pacific Middle School – were built between 1955 and 1962. Design work for all three schools was funded in the 2016 school bond, which should expedite the construction process, according to campaign officials. Advocates of the measure say the bond is not likely to raise taxes for most homeowners “due to expiring school funding measures – regardless of fluctuation in property values.”  According to the information on the district’s website, homeowners would pay $4.40 per $1,000 of assessed value in 2023, the same as this year’s rate. (Voters are asked to approve a dollar amount, not a tax rate. If property values increase, the tax rate decreases to generate the approved amount.) The Highline School District is among the most diverse districts in Washington state. It serves more than 17,500 students in grades K-12 at 35 schools in the communities of Burien, Des Moines, Normandy Park, SeaTac, and White Center. Seattle King County REALTORS® join more than a dozen other organizations that have endorsed the bond measure. As part of SKCR’s endorsement process, applicants must complete a questionnaire detailing how funding would be used, citizen involvement in vetting the request, the impact on property owners, and various metrics that reflect returns on investments by homeowners and other stakeholders. The document is circulated to committee members before meeting with district representatives.
  • Minimum wage in Washington state is increasing again. The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) announced the minimum wage will increase to $15.74 an hour in 2023. That’s up $1.25 from what wage currently is. The 8.66% increase in the state’s minimum wage is due to the rising costs of everyday goods such as housing, groceries, and medical care, according to L&I. The state minimum wage applies to workers age 16 and older. Under state law, employers can pay 85% of the minimum wage to workers ages 14-15. For 2023, the wage for that younger group will be $13.38 per hour. The new year will also bring changes for the minimum pay drivers for rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft will earn. For trips within Seattle in 2023, drivers will earn 64 cents per passenger minute and $1.50 per passenger mile, or $5.62, whichever is greater, according to L&I. For trips outside of Seattle in 2023, drivers will earn 37 cents per passenger minute and $1.27 per passenger mile, or $3.26, whichever is greater. The change is due to legislation passed earlier this year that brought about new rights and protections for rideshare drivers.
  • In a new WalletHub report, Seattle was named one of the best foodie cities in the United States, and a neighbor topped the list. The Emerald City ranked No. 7 on the list. Portland claimed the No. 1 spot, edging Orlando, Miami, San Francisco, Austin and Sacramento, respectively. Tampa, Las Vegas and San Diego rounded out the top 10. Vancouver, Wash., ranked No. 26, Spokane took home No. 72 and Tacoma was slotted at No. 93. The personal-finance website used 29 key indicators for the report, including cost of groceries and affordability and accessibility of high-quality restaurants to food festivals per capita. WalletHub also reported restaurant prices rose 8% between August 2021 and August 2022, and grocery store prices increased 8.3% in that time. Click here for the full report.
  • One city in King County was ranked No. 3 among the best cities to live in the country in a new Money Magazine report. Kirkland claimed bronze in the competition, which is judged by economic opportunities, quality of life, diversity and where the best futures lie. Atlanta took home the No. 1 slot, followed by Tempe, Ariz. The Money Magazine report said Kirkland residents — of which there are 90,472 — pay $2,000 a month for the average one-bedroom rental, and median home sales top $1 million. The median household income in Kirkland is just under $130,000, according to the report. Raleigh, Rogers Park, Ill., Columbia, Md., Somerville, Mass., Ann Arbor, Mich., Tampa, Jersey City, NJ, and Boise ranked Nos. 3-11, respectively. Camas, Wash., took home No. 32 on the list. Camas was touted for its proximity to Portland, its tree-lined 4th Avenue, the Liberty Theatre and more. California placed four cities between Nos. 13 and 25 in the rankings. Hillsboro represented Oregon at No. 23. Click here for the full report.
  • Five towns in the Seattle area ranked among the top 100 Best Small Cities in America, led by Sammamish at No. 12, according to a recent analysis by WalletHub. WalletHub compared more than 1,300 cities with populations between 25,000 and 100,000 across five metrics, including affordability, economic health, education and health, quality of life and safety. The cities were also compared across 43 livability indicators, including housing costs, quality of school systems and number of restaurants per capita. Sammamish was No. 12 overall among the 1,300 cities measured, finishing 30th for safety, 75th for education and health, 89th for economic health and 183rd for affordability. Redmond was No. 21 on the list, boosted by its ranking of nine for economic health, 81 for education and health and 113 for quality of life. Other Seattle-area communities in the top 100 included Issaquah (37), Mercer Island (50) and Kirkland (69).
  • According to a new report by WalletHub of 2023’s Best Colleges & Universities, Whitman College in Walla Walla is ranked the best out of the state’s schools. UW is ranked number two, Gonzaga University is number three, and WSU is ranked fifth. WalletHub compared more than 900 higher-education institutions in the U.S. across 30 key metrics. The data was grouped into seven categories, including student selectivity, cost and financing, and career outcomes. Whitman College was ranked best for student-to-faculty ratio and graduation rate, UW was best for its admission rate as well as its gender and racial diversity, and Gonzaga University took the top spot for highest median salary after school. That’s critical because on average, tuition and room and board for a four-year college is now $23,000 to $52,000 a year, according to WalletHub’s findings. Whitman is the most expensive in Washington state at $72,210 for tuition, and room and board annually. In-state tuition and room and board at WSU is $20,132. The top three schools in Washington state — Whitman, UW and Gonzaga — all ranked “average” for on-campus crime.
  • The payroll premiums on workers’ wages to pay for Washington state’s paid family and medical leave program will increase on Jan. 1, according to a report in KOMO News. The state’s Employment Security Department announced Thursday that the rate will increase from 0.6% to 0.8% of wages to keep pace with the number of people using the program, with most of the share continuing to be paid by employees. The premium increase comes just weeks after an analysis of the financial health of Washington state’s paid family leave program estimated the fund would hit an $8.7 million deficit by the end of the year. The actuarial analysis by the consulting firm Milliman that was recently presented to a legislative task force showed that the current premium rate is not keeping up with demand for the state benefit that launched in 2020 and it recommended increasing the rate. When premiums first were enacted, 0.4% of workers’ wages funded the program, with 63% paid by employees and 37% paid by employers. An increase to 0.6% had already gone into effect earlier this year, and employees’ share increased to about 73%, with the remainder paid by employers. Under the law, eligible workers receive 12 weeks of paid time off for the birth or adoption of a child or for a serious medical condition of the worker or the worker’s family member, or 16 weeks for a combination of both. An additional two weeks may be used if there is a serious health condition with a pregnancy. Family members in the military also qualify for leave to spend time with service members about to be deployed overseas or who return home from deployment. Weekly benefits are calculated based on a percentage of the employee’s wages and the state’s weekly average wage — which is now $1,586. Though the weekly amount paid out is currently capped at $1,327, that is set to increase in January to $1,427. Concerns about long-term solvency for the program emerged earlier this year, with a warning in January that the program would hit a deficit by March. Lawmakers set aside $350 million in the state supplemental budget that passed earlier this year to address any deficit that exists on June 30, 2023, the end of the fiscal biennium.
  • With homeownership costs doubling since last year, the market for starter homes has become unaffordable for most buyers in all but four major U.S. cities, according CNBC in a recent study published by real estate site Point2.Those cities are: Detroit, Tulsa, Memphis, and Oklahoma City. For the purposes of Point2′s analysis, starter homes are those valued in the bottom third of all homes available in a given market. To measure affordability, the study follows the common personal finance rule that a mortgage payment shouldn’t exceed 30% of a homeowner’s gross monthly income. Aside from a chronic shortage of housing that predates the Covid-19 pandemic, supply constraints and growing costs for building materials have contributed to increasing home prices, says Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of REALTORS®. And with home prices up by nearly 30%, “we know for sure people’s incomes have not risen by 30%,” he says.  The market will likely remain discouraging, at least until mortgage rates drop and the supply of homes catches up with demand, says Yun. Unfortunately for potential homebuyers, home building has slowed recently due to economic uncertainty. “The starter home market has become increasingly difficult over the past 20 years,” says Yun. This has created a “social divide” between homeowners and non-homeowners, who “simply feel like they cannot catch up.”
  • More than half of U.S. homeowners have spent money to protect their homes from climate threats, according to a new report from Seattle-based Redfin. About one-third of homeowners across the country have spent $5,000 or more to make their homes more resilient to climate risk, and 36% said they have an insurance policy covering flooding. That’s a higher share than other climate risks, Redfin said. Overall, 58% of homeowners spent any money to protect their homes from climate threats, the report said. In Florida, the report found, 40% of homeowners have invested in making their homes more resilient to hurricanes and other tropical storms, which is nearly triple the national rate. Click here to read the full report.
  • WalletHub, a personal-finance website, ranked the evergreen state as the ninth-safest in the country in a new report. States were scored on personal and residential safety, financial safety, road safety, workplace safety and more, taking into account fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel, law-enforcement employees per capita, assaults per capita, bullying rates and more. WalletHub also measured the percentage of residents who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Washington ranked No. 50 in law-enforcement employees per capita and No. 2 in “total loss amount from climate disasters per capita.” Vermont claimed the No. 1 overall ranking, followed by Maine, New Hampshire, Utah, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Minnesota. Oregon placed No. 12 on the list. Alabama, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana ranked Nos. 46-50, respectively. Click here to read the full report.