Seattle’s ‘build, baby, build’ frenzy leaves affordability in the dust

With new information about housing costs and trends in hand, Seattle should pause and reassess whether its “affordability” policies are working.

Evidence is accumulating that Seattle needs to reconsider “affordability” policies that are falling short of their promise.

There’s a strong argument that in several ways, the city is making things worse, especially for the middle class, immigrants and others that it’s professing to help.

So before proceeding with proposals for sweeping upzones, allowing more and bigger apartment complexes in single-family neighborhoods, city officials should pause to assess what’s working and what isn’t with their “build, baby, build” approach.

Given the current 100-year flood of apartment construction, they should clarify whether additional upzoning is worth the cost to livability and long-term affordability, and who will benefit from the upzones.

This is a safe time to pause. Some developers and their lenders are taking a closer look at their pipeline, in light of the glut of recent construction.

Consider what’s happened in the last three years. Tens of thousands of new apartment units were developed, breaking city records.

Apartment supply around downtown will increase 25 percent from 2016 through 2018, according to an appraisal done for King County last summer.

The appraisal, which evaluated the potential of developing housing at Convention Place transit station, offers a refreshingly unbiased look at Seattle’s rental market.

Average rents continue to increase — they’re up about 8 percent over last year — but that can be misleading. The average is skewed upward by new apartments that rent for much more than older units.

Factoring out new construction, average rent increases in the area have been about 3.4 percent a year since 1997, the appraisal notes.

Forecasters expect the construction spree will lead to higher vacancy rates this year and next, but the strong…

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