Affordable Condos or Cheap Apartments — Who's choice is it?

I’m not typically one to go on about property owner’s rights vs government(s) ability to control code enforcement and reasonable use of property without infringing on others.  I think active involvement in zoning, environmental protection, etc are way too important for market forces only. But when the politicians start butting in without thinking about the unintended consequences it’s time to speak up.

For the last couple years we’ve all heard a lot of complaints about the shortage of affordable home ownership in and around Seattle. At the same time, it’s been a dismal market for landlords as the rental market has been very low. Given that situation, wouldn’t you do what a lot of apartment owners are doing — go condo. Better return for the owner and it increases the supply of available equity housing in the market.

From an article in the Seattle Times, Condo Wave leaves renters battered, apparently State Senator Ken Jacobson believes those evil property owners shouldn’t be allowed to put their real estate to it’s highest best use. Apparently we must stand up for low-rents, tenant rights over landlords and above all no more development. Let potential homeowners look farther away from the city to live — they can afford it. Ok, I’m exaggerating and ranting – but figure out the obvious. They’re not eliminating housing — just switching it to the ownership market.

If you live in Washington State, please be sure to check out the Seattle Times article and contact Senator Jacobson with your opinion on his proposed legislation. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday in the Senate Consumer Protection and Housing committee, so don’t wait.

Embracing Seattle’s New Urbanism

As a longtime resident, I’m used to watching the Puget Sound area go through continual growth spurts as development and demographics change. I get lost in my hometown of Port Orchard spurting for the last 45 years as steady as the whales in Sinclair Inlet.

In spite of economic ups and downs, the NW is never stagnant and the next 10 years will hardly be an exception. And now there is another new trend as the babyboomers are seeking new lifestyles, all the while the NW economy is projected to add 50,000 new jobs by the year 2024. This new lifestyle and economy is fueling a new change as Seattle, the Queen of the NW cities embraces it’s new urbanism.


Seattle will continue to change it’s skyline as a projected 10,000 new condominium units will be built over the next 5 years, ranging in price from the $200,000’s to more than 5 million. Here is the skyline as it will be affected by projects currently in the pipeline.

[photopress:Skyline_1.jpg,thumb,alignright]Always living in the eye of this growth hurricane, I try to stay open to predictions especially when these 10,000 units are already on the drawing boards. (Remember when East Lake Sammamish was only summer cottages, and the only thing you did in Issaquah was stop for a burger before hitting the slopes?)

But still I pause skeptically when I see plans for the immediate future in development like those planned for downtown Seattle. With only 55,000 people currently living in downtown Seattle, will changing demographics fill all of these new units? And where will the people come from?

Dean Jones, President and CEO of Real Logics speaking at a panel discussion regarding Seattle’s New Urbanism in June, believes there is a pent up demand for these new units and that about 2200 units per year can be absorbed, likely more than can be built possibly causing more demand than supply.

This pent up demand, Jones believes, is coming from 4 main sources: up to 1/2 from empty nesters; in city professionals; in city homeowners; and a minor segment of investors. According to architect Blaine Weber, a major driver of this demand for in city living is that people are seeking a new lifestyle. Living in the city can be a more carefree, healthy lifestyle as people step out of their building and walk a few blocks to work. ‘With addition of new pedestrian walkways and multi-modal transit opportunities, Seattle can become a 24-7 hub.’ Personally, I think that rising gas prices also make people rethink their life style alternatives and move closer to work centers and mass transit.

It’s interesting to wonder, then, what will happen to the housing being left behind by the empty nesters. In fact, some suggest that a sufficient inventory of single family detached housing already exists to supply demand for the next 20 years. Christopher Lineberger of the Brookings institute believes that all net new inventory will be attached single family homes in intensely urban settings again reflecting the desire of up to 50% of the public to live in a carefree environment with ‘walkable urbanity.

New urbanism is showing up outside of Seattle, too as planned developments are changing the waterfronts of Bremerton, Tacoma and communities like Dupont, Issaqauh Highlands, Snoqualmie Ridge and Redmond Ridge have been winners with buyers in the last 5-10 years. On the Tacoma waterfront there is a new 800 unit planned community that will be car-less with mixed use waterfront, according to the ‘Queen of Condos’ in Tacoma, Gema Powers. This appeals to my love for walking to Starbucks and the grocery store.

I’ve always thought I’d try out downtown living, especially since it’s where LTD Properties and Real Estate is located. I worry though about the lack of lawn and trees that’s you’d forgo in a high rise, and where would my husband restore his old Mustang that takes up half our garage? On the other hand, no more pulling weeks and repainting the house. I guess there’s pros and cons to all life styles, but at least we have enough alternatives that we can choose our own. It all sounds so appealing that maybe I’ll try out everything for 2 years at a time, but of course, when there are two and one doesn’t like change, I’ll have to live vicariously from friends as they embrace this new urbanism!