Lots of news about the rental market this week, and not terribly consistent news, either. On the one hand, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal, vacancies are up, though they attribute the increase to new units entering the market. Meanwhile, median rents are up once again, across all the various places that calculate it.
Everybody who was worried that the news about Amazon’s hunt for a location to set up a second HQ spelled the end of the cushy Amazon-Seattle relationship can comfort themselves with the news that Amazon isn’t finished growing in Seattle. They already represented a significant portion of the office space tenancy downtown, and now they’ve signed a lease agreement for huge chunk of the Rainier Square project. I’m skeptical about the wisdom in facing the fragility inherent in being dependent on a single company by throwing in with that single company harder, but it is hard to say no to the opportunities Amazon offers.
At least if somebody other than Amazon wants to move in, they’re likely to have the space to do it. The Uptown/Lower Queen Anne rezoning passed, so the area will be eligible for taller buildings. Every neighborhood up for review so far has passed which is a promising trend both for increasing density in Seattle and putting the prospect of affordable housing on the horizon.
Inventory went up again in July! Two months in a row! Let’s make it it an ongoing trend!! Dancing for everybody!
If you want a peek into one of the factors contributing to the general lack of inventory, here’s one; we’re adding jobs faster than we’re adding housing. The bright side of the article, I suppose, is that we’re the tenth city on the top ten list, so there are nine places who have it worse. You’ll note that San Jose was in the news recently as the place taking the top spot for fastest growing market. These things travel together.
Anybody following the upzoing around the city will be interested in the latest – after a bit of a delay, the upzones for the International District have passed, along with some companion legislation meant to curtail and mitigate the potential displacement caused by the upzoning.
The market is the only thing hot this week; we’re under an excessive heat advisory and it is quite warm by local standards. The city has a list of places you can go to stay cool and protect yourself from the heat. Many of them are places you might be inclined to hang out anyway, which is handy. Stay safe!
Another area has approved the MHA upzone plan. The first portions of the Central District, focusing primarily near 23rd St. and Jackson. This is part of the city-wide plan to create areas where developers can take advantage of increased zoning limits in exchange for contributing to the affordable housing stock in the city. The University District and portions of downtown have already been through the process, and the rest of the city will go through it between now and the end of the year.
Case-Shiller numbers for March are out and it’s more of the same. I’m waiting on the numbers for June (I’m still dancing about inventory going up), but we have a little to wait for those still.
In objectively cheerful news, the Fremont Solstice parade is safe for another year. This is relevant since it was in danger due to a lack of real estate; specifically, they couldn’t find anywhere to affordably store their floats. Seattle City Light saved the day. It’s a summer miracle!
This week’s news is all about MHA. MHA is the Mandatory Housing Affordability program that’s part of a city-wide rezoning project to increase density while requiring developers who take advantage of the new zoning to contribute to Seattle’s supply of affordable housing either by including units in their development project, or paying an equivalent fee into a city fund to do the same. Reviews of the zoning changes have been going on neighborhood by neighborhood over the last year, with East Lake, Downtown, and the University District already getting easy approval. Things slowed down a bit when the Council began looking at the International District and Central areas.
Related, the draft Environmental Impact Study on different strategies for implementing zoning changes has been released and the public comment period is open on it. Earlier today I attended (the first?) public presentation of the findings, which focused on comparing to different MHA approaches to projections where no MHA programs take effect. One of the strategies focused on a neighborhood’s displacement risk and it’s accessibility to opportunity in making its decisions. While both programs have very similar net effects across the city, the differences at the neighborhood level are stark. If you’d like to get a look at the reports, data, and places for you to leave your official comments (which will be answered in the final report) this is the page for you to watch. I’ll probably be talking about this more as the process continues since this is going to have a huge impact on the local housing market.
I was just singing the Seattle Bubble’s praises, but I’m going to do it again. They’ve put up an analysis of housing affordability in the area, with adjustments for what the index would be with different interest rates. I highly recommend reading the article as a whole, less for its information about affordability rates in the area, and more because it winds up being a very useful discussion of interest rates, where the current rates fall in comparison to historical norms, and the potential affect they can have on the market. With affordability reaching for historical lows and interest rates creeping back toward more normal ranges, the rising interest rates could put some pressure against rising prices in many markets. I don’t foresee it having much of an impact on that front in the Seattle market since we have plenty of cash, and high-cash buyers who can avoid or mitigate those effects, but it could start to affect national trends which will, eventually play into the Seattle market.
If you’ve been paying attention to the upzoning going on around the city as part HALA, then you’ll be wanting to pay attention to the next neighborhood up for review: the International District. And not just because increased density in that neighborhood might increase floorspace for tea shops. (Though, in my opinion, that’s a very good reason to pay attention.) The two neighborhoods that have already been through review had unanimous approval, but they were also, arguably, the least controversial choices. There was small but significant opposition to the downtown plan because many activists wanted an increase in the Mandatory Housing Affordability component of the downtown plan, the opposite of the NIMBY trend expected in most neighborhoods, but overall these were straightforward approvals. The International District is a different creature altogether, and relatively unique in the city, too. Paying attention to the conversations going on during its review could be enlightening about what to expect as HALA approvals move into more controversial parts of the city.
And a final farewell to Bertha. After many years, many breakages, and a lot of disappointment, she’s finished her job and gotten dismantled. SDOT has continued their support for webcam curiosity and has a video up to let you see the giant drill head for her final resting place. (She’s mostly getting recycled.)