Economist: Lack of affordable homes in Puget Sound region is ‘lunacy’

Dec 7, 2021, 8:20 AM | Updated: 11:15 am
Affordable homes...
Options for affordable homes in the Puget Sound region have all but disappeared. (Photo credit: Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons)
(Photo credit: Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons)

Buying a home in the Puget Sound region has always been pricey, but recently, affordable options have all but disappeared from the market.

Economist: Things continue to get ‘worse’ for first-time home buyers in King County

The median price of a house in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties has continued to ascend at astronomical rates, rising 12%, 23%, and 16% year-over-year in November, respectively. For those looking to move outside those three areas in search of better rates, the options have been few and far between.

“Washington state as a whole became unaffordable a couple of quarters ago,” Windermere Chief Economist Matthew Gardner told Seattle’s Morning News.

Defining “affordable” as a first-time buyer making median income shopping in the median price range, “there are only four counties in the state” where people in that bracket would be able to purchase a home, Gardner notes. For those in working class professions, that’s made it “remarkably difficult” to even consider entering the market.

“The number of homes that are affordable to those firefighters, teachers, and nurses are probably around 3% of total active inventory, which is lunacy, quite frankly,” Gardner said.

In terms of how to actually address that problem, Gardner believes the answer is relatively straightforward, at least in practice.

“It can be handled, it can be managed, simply by doing one thing: building more,” he proposed.

Home office space is now ‘very high on people’s list of requirements’

While it’s not a complicated solution, it’s also one that is hindered by restrictive zoning in large cities like Seattle, where over two-thirds of the city is limited to single-family homes, with few options for denser housing like townhomes, duplexes, and triplexes.

“We’re not going to make any more land,” Gardner pointed out. “We need to look at the prevailing zoning within our cities and our regions and try and figure out if that is still as applicable today as it was when zoning was created in the state — I don’t think it is.”

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Economist: Lack of affordable homes in Puget Sound region is ‘lunacy’