Jane Bulk / The Seattle Times
There simply aren’t enough homes in the Seattle area. It’s a long-standing problem here, as it is in other major coastal cities.
But now, a new report finds that the problem has spread to parts of the country where, until recently, housing was more plentiful and affordable, even in the American interior. And in the Northwest, it’s not just a problem in the Seattle and Portland areas.
The report includes 16 metro areas in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, and finds that all 16 areas had a housing shortage in 2019.
The report comes from Up for Growth, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit research group that advocates for an increase in the housing supply. The researchers used data from the US Census Bureau and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to estimate the number of housing units in an area versus the number needed to meet demand.
It is not easy to quantify the housing shortage in an area, and this report is the first of its kind. The report attempts to determine the number of new families that must be formed in order for the housing supply to be sufficient and allow people to avoid less-than-ideal living situations resulting from rising housing costs.
This means, for example, that two roommates splitting a one-bedroom apartment, with one sleeping in the living room, would be able to afford their studio unit. Or, an adult who lives with his or her parents to provide rent will be able to afford to move in.
Some parts of the county still have a surplus – in other words, there is enough housing to meet demand. But from 2012 to 2019, a large number of urban areas slipped from a housing surplus to a housing shortage. And in many areas where there was already a shortage in 2012, the situation worsened by 2019.
In nearly all 16 metro areas in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, the housing situation worsened from 2012 to 2019. In five of these metropolitan areas, the 2012 housing surplus disappeared by 2019.
The most dramatic turnaround occurred in Bend, Oregon, where a 2% surplus turned into an 8% deficit. Near Seattle, the Bremerton-Silverdale-Port Orchard metro in Kitsap County also saw its small surplus fall 0.4% to 4%.
This is not a big surprise. With housing and rental prices soaring in Seattle, Kitsap County is becoming an attractive, less expensive alternative — and only a ferry ride away. But the influx of new residents from Seattle has driven up prices and rents, causing shortages.
The worst housing deficit in the Northwest was in Salem, Oregon. According to the report, Salem needed 13,000 more housing units than in 2019 – just over 10% of the total current housing stock of 126,000 units.
In the Seattle metro area, the report estimated a shortage of about 81,000 units in 2019, up from 41,500 units in 2012. Less than 81,000 units are less than 5% of the 1.6 million units that are in our central area, which means we have a 5% shortage. In 2012, the shortage in Seattle was less than 3%.
There are several reasons behind the low production of new housing units. First, land and construction costs have increased dramatically in the past decade. Local development fees and other government requirements, zoning laws and opposition to new construction by many homeowners also hindered the creation of new housing.
In two Washington metro areas — Yakima and Wenatchee — the housing shortage decreased slightly from 2012 to 2019.
The report records the period leading up to the pandemic. If anything, the situation has likely gotten much worse since then. Demand for homes has surged in many areas outside of major cities during the pandemic, as remote work has enabled some people to live away from the office. Historically low interest rates have also helped increase demand.
In a market with an abundance of condominiums, median rents and home prices aren’t out of reach with median incomes, as they have long been in Seattle.
Statewide, Washington had a deficit of 140,000 housing units in 2019, which represented 4.4% of the total current housing stock. It ranked as the fifth worst housing shortage, after California, Colorado, Utah and Oregon, in that order.