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(Un)Affordable Housing

Spark Public

(Un)Affordable Housing

Voices from those who struggle to call Seattle home.

September 21, 2016

The affordable housing crisis is called a “crisis” for good reason.

Seattle is approximately 24 percent more expensive than the typical U.S. city, according to the Council on Economic and Community Relations. Just last month, the median rent in Seattle reached $2,800.

What’s Good 206 reporter Kelsey Hamlin spoke with Seattleites from the demographic bearing the brunt of Seattle’s housing crisis — millennials — to hear what they consider to be the biggest challenges to solving Seattle’s burgeoning housing prices.

Click on each picture to hear from them on the housing crisis and what they think the solution is.

Dimitri Groce

Age: 27
Neighborhood: West Seattle
Number of jobs: 1
Salary: $25/hr
Hours worked: 40+/wk
Monthly rent: $1,000
Total of other monthly bills: $600
Tuition (quarter, out-of-pocket): $0

Meet Dimitri. Dimitri currently works at the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, having recently earned his master’s degree in social work at the University of Washington. Dimitri pays high rent , but says that living in Seattle is necessary for his work. He also takes care of his dad, a veteran who has suffered from chronic homelessness.

Paying high rent

Living in Seattle

What causes the affordable housing crisis?

Seattle is changing , says Dimitri. Its population is growing and subsequently people are getting pushed out of their neighborhoods. He blames lawmakers for not addressing the challenges created by the city’s rapidly increasing population. Dimitri also argues that even with the new minimum wage in Seattle, people working full-time can’t keep pace with rising rent prices. The problem is compounded for those who have dependent family members, child-care expenses or health issues, says Dimitri.

How Seattle's changing

What would fix it?

Affordable housing is a basic human right, says Dimitri. He believes the responsibility for solving this complex and ever-changing issue lies with legislators. One avenue? Build more affordable housing and create policies that ensure it remains affordable, he says.

Nathan Woodruff

Age: 21
Neighborhood: U District
Number of jobs: 0 (unpaid lab researcher, student)
Salary: $0
Hours worked: 40-plus per week (student, researcher)
Monthly rent: $850
Total of other monthly bills: $200
Tuition (quarter, out-of-pocket): $3,900 (attends all four quarters)

Meet Nathan. He’s a full-time student pursuing a degree at the University of Washington that will lead to a career in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering and math). He’s taken out multiple student loans to pay for his housing and school expenses. Nathan aspires to have a career in the commercial space industry, likely in Kirkland or Redmond. Housing is a major expense, but Nathan says it’s important and more convenient to live closer to campus while he attends school.

Taking out student loans

What causes the affordable housing crisis?

It’s complicated , says Nathan. In part, he thinks zoning laws (such as regulations on building height and location) present too many challenges and restrictions for developers.

Complicated issue

What would fix it?

The easiest solution in Nathan’s opinion is simply creating more housing. Nathan acknowledges trends that compound the shortage — such as a surplus of renters who are able to afford massive rent increases thanks to an excess of high-paying jobs (here’s looking at you, Amazon).

Taylor Dean Westerlund

Age: 23
Neighborhood: North Queen Anne
Number of jobs: 3
Salary: $11 per hour for two of his jobs, $16.75 per hour for one
Hours worked: 18 per week, 16 per week, and 8–10 per week for his highest paying job
Monthly rent: $500
Total of other monthly bills: $700–$800 per month
Tuition (quarter, out-of-pocket): $0

Meet Taylor. He finished four years at Cornish College of the Arts, majoring in theatre and minoring in writing. Taylor says rent is his biggest financial burden with student loans being a close second. To keep making payments on both, he works three jobs. To save on living expenses, Taylor shares a rental house with four roommates and shares a bedroom.

Student loans

What causes the affordable housing crisis?

Taylor acknowledges that the problem is multifaceted, but indicts the saturation of specific sectors in Seattle’s job market for being part of the problem. A surplus of high-paying tech jobs, for example, drives up rental prices. Artists like him get pushed out of Seattle because they can’t afford the rental hikes, he says.

What would fix it?

Taylor thinks the solution lies with policymakers . The higher-ups need to encourage a “diverse job ecosystem” and encourage builders to create smarter housing that focuses less on aesthetics and more on efficiency.


A recent survey conducted by Apartment List found that Seattle millennials would need a minimum of 12.8 years of work, savings and assistance to afford a down payment on a home. The survey covered 30,000 U.S. renters in 93 metropolitan areas and 130 cities, including Seattle.

Millennials who embark on buying their first home may be in for an unpleasant surprise. People ages 18–35 assumed they would need $28,600 for a down payment. In reality, the survey says, they would need close to double that amount ($49,995).

Data shows that across-the-board, working wages are outpaced by the rising cost of housing. Bloomberg found a $5,778 deficit between the median salary of millennials and the minimum required to purchase a single-family home in Seattle.

Courtesy of

Sure, Seattle’s Housing Affordability and Living Agenda (HALA) made way for 12,500 new affordable housing units last year, but population growth and demand is outpacing development.

HALA conducted its own survey last year, after having fulfilled its first round of implementation, in which 41 percent of the 2,359 respondents (Seattleites ages 26–50) reported that their rent comprises more than half of their income.

Courtesy of

Kelsey Hamlin

Kelsey Hamlin is a former intern with Spark Public (formerly What's Good 206). Hamlin attends the University of Washington, majoring in journalism and law, societies  and justice. She completed an internship with The Seattle Times as an Olympia legislative reporter and is currently interning with South Seattle Emerald as well. See her other work on her website, or find her on twitter @ItsKelseyHamlin.

Fun Fact: When Kelsey was three years old, she had to have emergency eye surgery after her eye swelled itself shut. To this day, the doctors have no idea what caused it.

More stories by Kelsey Hamlin

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Taylor's degree in theater and writing is not going to get him a six figure salary.  Those were not great choices for a major, they won't pay back in salary what he is paying in student loan debt. Unless Taylor becomes the next Speilberg, he is sorta screwed right out of the gate.Dimitri faces a similar problem.  Social service jobs are some of the lowest paying, no matter where you are in the country. They also tend to be the first cut when budgets are slashed.  Many of these jobs are funded by federal or state grants which are unreliable at best.  Again, the salary he will earn will never pay back the loans he took out. Nathan has picked a promising career path. Tons of STEM jobs are out there now and there is a shortage of workers to fill the slots.  These are high paying jobs that overtime can lead to large six figure salaries and endless possiblilties.  As the years go by Nathan should be able to pay off his student loans and his degree will pay him in salary far more then he spent on loans.