How much of Seattle's housing is affordable? No one knows for sure

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Until last month, I managed a 20-unit apartment building in Lake City. A one bedroom rented for about $900 a month; a two-bedroom, $1,100. One tenant, an Ethiopian immigrant, drove a taxi. Another man from Mongolia supported a family of four as a handyman. A young man upstairs sold weed in a nearby pot shop. Without a doubt, these renters earned well below Seattle’s median income of around $50,000 a year-- taxi drivers, for example, earn about $27,000 a year.

This is affordable housing for people who need it. But because it’s market-rate, the city may not know it exists. Members of Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda briefly considered developing a strategy to gather data on market-rate affordable units, but the recommendation didn’t make the final cut. Now, Councilmember Kshama Sawant is pushing city officials to get that accounting done. If they don't, Sawant floated the idea of a Seattle City Council commissioned study.

According to Office of Housing Communications Director Todd Burley, it might not be so easy.

By the standards of the city’s Office of Housing, the units in this Lake City building are affordable to individuals earning less than $37,000 a year. But the rents are not subsidized or restricted. Simply, the building was built in the sixties and lacks a certain, shall we say, charm. The market does not yet justify a $1,500 rent for this motel turned apartment complex. This is not uncommon; buildings from the sixties and seventies tend to be Seattle’s most affordable.

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About the Authors & Contributors

David Kroman

David Kroman

David Kroman is formerly a reporter at Crosscut, where he covered city politics.