Seattle’s affordability crisis is costing renters $6K per year, report says


Across the United States, renters are paying more of their income on rent than ever before, and Seattle is no exception. But what’s the actual hit to the average renter’s pocketbook like?

A new study by Zillow analyzed cost burden from renters before the housing bubble and now. Between 1985 and 2000, typical rent in the Seattle metropolitan area was about 23.8 percent of area median income (AMI). Now, it’s about 30.8 percent.

In today’s dollars, that difference accounts for $5,592 per year, Zillow’s analysis found, but that’s directly comparing median income to median rent. For homeowners, housing affordability improved, with income share spent on mortgage actually dropping a couple of points.

This would imply that the affordability gap between renters and homeowners has only grown—meaning the typical cost burden for renters could actually be a little higher than 30 percent, although the Zillow data doesn’t conclusively point to that.

It would track with data from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, which found that in 2015, nearly half of renter households in Seattle spent more than 30 percent of their income in rent, with almost a quarter of renter households spending more than half their income.

Regardless, with more than half of those filing taxes in Seattle making under $50,000, it’s safe to say that not everyone that’s paying median rent is making median income—which broke $80,000 in 2015.

Even taking the numbers at face value, though, the problem is a little worse in Seattle than nationwide. In the United States as a whole, Zillow found, the percentage of median rent to median income went from 25.8 percent to 29.1 percent, costing the typical renter around $2,000 per year.

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