Tech's new home? Thousands of housing units to go up in a Bellevue neighborhood you've never heard of
Amazon is building a campus in Bellevue. Facebook is building out nearby. So where will people live? Wilburton, perhaps.
It’s across highway 405 from downtown Bellevue. It used to be strawberry fields. There once was a dance studio. Now a Porsche dealer sits across the street from a Mercedes Benz dealer.
Soon, Wilburton will be two rail stops after downtown Bellevue. The alignment for the Wilburton light rail station is already up.
King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci says the housing to be built in Wilburton, as well as at the Spring District one light rail stop away, will be so significant it will redraw our mental image of Bellevue.
“You can cast your mind into the future and visualize a map what is now downtown Bellevue, this area Wilburton, mid-lakes and the Spring District becomes one really big downtown area," Balducci said.
But it is not clear whether any of the housing to be built here will help middle-class families struggling to stay near the city.
Bellevue is particularly tough. The median home price, according to Trulia, is $890,000. In 2017, a household needed to make $164,000 a year to afford a median-priced home there, according to Microsoft. A median-priced household in Bellevue, however, made just $50,000 a year.
Affordability is a problem, Balducci said.
“I think what’s really at stake here in Bellevue, as in much of the Eastside, is that we are already an expensive place to live and we are at risk of becoming an exclusive place to live where working families can’t actually afford to live at all,” she said.
That's why government officials are making plans to subsidize housing so people can afford to live in Bellevue, Balducci said.
"We have some major plans for further out in the BelRed area and over by what’s going to be a light rail maintenance facility," she added.
Bellevue’s mayor recently spoke about stepping up his city’s affordable housing plan. But no one has said Wilburton will have any affordable homes for people who qualify for housing help.
Many people who need homes in the region don’t qualify for help. They’re losing out in a crowded housing market where people with tech salaries tend to win.
Balducci, along with Bellevue council member John Stokes, say that Wilburton will help grow the housing market, which will help people with middle incomes.
“Really what we need to do is we need to help and allow the public and private sector to just create more housing," Balducci said.
Wilburton is expected to have 5,000 units by 2035. Balducci says there will be “tens of thousands of housing units available around here ultimately,” in the surrounding area.
Microsoft says our region needs 305,000 housing units to house people with middle and lower incomes.
John Stokes says despite the high cost of the city, Bellevue is trying.
“This is an area where we can do more," he said. "We’re going to really target affordable housing in the area.”
It’s going to be tough, he said. But they’re working on it.