Roger Valdez is the Director of Smart Growth Seattle, an organization working to promote fresh land use codes to manage the growth of single-family neighborhoods. For the past 20 years, Roger has worked at state, regional and local levels on issues ranging from public health to public education. He was Neighborhood Development Manager for the City of Seattle and most recently worked as the housing director at a local nonprofit, managing and developing affordable housing.
Here, he discusses the housing and rental markets in Seattle.
Tell us about Smart Growth Seattle. What’s your mission?
Our mission is to advocate for more housing of all types all over the city of Seattle for people of all levels of income. We believe that the best way to grow a great city is to keep housing affordable by making lots of it.
What’s the real estate climate in Seattle right now?
The market for housing products of all kind, including older stock, is hot. And land prices are also high, and many builders and developers are facing bidding wars for buildable land. Rents have gone up in Seattle, but much of that is because of lots of new housing. Even though Seattle’s rents are consistently in the top five or 10 in the country, so far, we’ve been only slightly trailing demand.
Why is Seattle such a hot place to live?
There are a lot of new jobs being created here by the tech industry both directly and indirectly. There is opportunity for innovation in Seattle and it is a beautiful place to live, with easy access to nature and with a lively culture.
What is being done in the city to help meet the housing demands?
There has been a building boom in Seattle as developers of all types of housing try to meet growing demand for their product. And there are many more requirements being placed on projects during construction that are slowing production, adding costs and raising prices even though a lot more housing is being built.
What types of housing are most in demand in Seattle?
Single-family is still very much in demand. But today’s younger generation is used to apartment living and willing to stay in multifamily longer than previous generations.
What’s the current rental market?
As Mike Scott of Dupree + Scott points out, rents do go up and down, but expenses don’t. Scott points out that rents have increased “2.8 percent compounded annually, excluding the distortion caused by new construction. By comparison, real estate taxes and utilities increased 5.4 percent compounded annually over the same [15 year] period.”
Vacancy rates are still low, but it won’t last forever. However, property taxes and utilities are likely to stay the same, keeping an upward pressure on rents. All the more reason to expand supply and density, since more units mean spreading fixed costs over more households.
How can property managers help make rental properties more enticing?
Anecdotally, renters are bottom-line-oriented making their choice almost entirely on price. However, as always, it’s location, location, location. Being close to public amenities like parks and transit matter a lot to renters. Schools are important to younger families. And proximity to third places, bars, restaurants and cafes also matters. People want to get out of the building and so what’s near by is almost as important as amenities in a building.
What housing ideas or innovations are you most excited about right now? Why?
I think although the city has mostly outlawed them, microhousing is important and still could make a comeback. It’s a product that can be built as in fill in very dense, popular neighborhoods and rented at very competitive prices. Also, there is a potential for a sale market in backyard cottages. If the City Council would listen to experts who advice eliminating residency requirements for owners and allowing subdivision of lots, a whole new housing product could be ready for market. Finally, short-term rentals, commonly called Airbnbs, are an entrepreneurial opportunity for some households and can offer affordable accommodations for people who don’t want to stay in a hotel for a month but also don’t want to sign a lease.