Last year, the typical single person in Seattle earned enough to buy a home for just under $200,000 while the typical family of four had enough to pay just over $280,000, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. [Seattle's] median prices were about $450,000 for a house and $290,000 for a condo.The response of policy makers and developers in Seattle has been to build more housing – but not for average folks. Density is increasing, mostly on the high end of the economic spectrum. So what are working people doing? The P-I points to a trend that is obvious but rarely mentioned in the hype over the benefits of increasing Seattle density: sprawl. Yes, the rapid upscaling of the market is driving Seattle's workers into the suburbs. So we're increasing densities to accommodate the demand of the affluent, yet not deriving the supposed environmental benefits because the market is pushing working people into the 'burbs. This is moving us to what I think is a worst-of-both-worlds scenario: Los Angelsization. L.A. is both the most dense urban area in the country and also the most sprawling. Dense sprawl. Now that's Californication. The numbers here are eye-opening:
[M]any median-income workers choose to buy and commute rather than rent. "They can buy somewhere, but that somewhere isn't in the city of Seattle," said Adrienne Quinn, director of the Seattle Office of Housing. Just 49 percent of people who work in Seattle live in the city.Add this in the data in another P-I story by Cohen on March 22:
Strong job growth in King County and longer commutes to outlying communities are two reasons experts give for new U.S. Census estimates saying the county is growing faster than it has in years. The numbers, released today, show that more people moved to King County from elsewhere in the U.S. than left for another county last year -- reversing a trend going back at least to 2000.The market dynamic creates a dilemma. More development restrictions make city housing less affordable. But simply building more housing doesn't solve regional growth problems. High-priced density doesn't stall sprawl, it actually drives it when there's still plenty of land to develop. I've said it before: The one place we need to get creative is changing the market dynamics by reducing demand. It's common sense. If you have a business that's in trouble, you don't just increase revenue, you try and cut costs – you work both sides of the equation. We cannot build our way out of growth. One proposal I've touted is redirecting in-migration to places that actually need more people, like North Dakota and other heartland states that are losing population and want to be revitalized. The New Homestead Act proposed by Sens. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska would actually reward people for relocating in rural areas. Even without such an act, many companies are responding to the need to find more affordable communities for their workers. Microsoft, for example, is expanding its operations in North Dakota. Call it Red Midwest. But it also means cultivating an economy and values that are not growth-obsessed. Or that don't operate on the basis that the demand side of the market is unstoppable. "More" is always accepted as a given that we are powerless to resist. But the consequences of allowing the market to romp can be devastating to the environment and destroy communities that serve people all up and down the economic ladder.
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