Rents Rising In Seattle And Portland As Wages Stay Flat

Sep 19, 2013

If you’re on the hunt for an affordable apartment in Seattle, Bellevue or Tacoma – good luck. Rents in these urban areas continue to climb higher while people’s earnings remain stagnant, according to a new annual census report released Thursday.

In Seattle’s hip Capitol Hill neighborhood, Kim Selling,23, has felt the crush of rising rent. “They’re slowly, slowly climbing to becoming unaffordable,” Selling said.

Selling says rent for her one-bedroom apartment has increased three times in the past two years. She was planning to move out to a two-bedroom unit next month and split rent with a friend, but they just found out the landlord raised the rent $300. They were priced out.

“So I don’t know if I should move neighborhoods, or move into somebody’s closet, or live in the store that I work in,” Selling half-joked. “I don’t know.”

Between 2007 and 2012, the median Seattle rent has risen 18 percent while the median income for working people has stagnated.
Between 2007 and 2012, the median Seattle rent has risen 18 percent while the median income for working people has stagnated.
Credit KUOW/Kara McDermott

Graduate student Joy Posey moved here from Dallas a year ago. She also just dealt with a rent hike of $100 more a month.

“They even cut me a deal, down to $60, but it was still going to be significantly more than I was willing to pay,” Posey said.

Posey decided to move out. Posey, who's pursuing an advanced degree in audiology, said she had sticker shock when she moved to Seattle. She estimates the apartment she rented near the University of Washington would have cost about half as much in Dallas.

In the metro area of Seattle, Bellevue and Tacoma, rents have increased about 18 percent from 2007 through 2012, according to the latest report from the American Community Survey. The median rental price in 2012, including utilities, was $1,079 per month.

This boost in rent far outpaces people’s earnings, which have stayed relatively flat since 2007, just before the Great Recession hit.

Outside the Capitol Hill shop where Selling works, she said the wage freeze has hurt. She relishes the thought of her wages growing as fast as her rent.

“I’d be psyched if I were making $300-$500 more a month than when I first moved here [six years ago],” Selling said. “But that doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime soon.”

Both renters, Selling and Posey have decided a place of their own is too expensive for now. So, they each plan to live with roommates. In Posey’s case, five of them.

Across the Seattle metro area, the census also shows a slight uptick in the percentage of people who rent versus own.

For a neighborly comparison, Portland, Oregon is seeing similar trends with rising rents and stagnant wages. But there, rents – and wages – are still a bit lower than in Seattle.