NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, September 30th, 2022

Bellevue residents enthusiastically back range of ideas for increasing housing attainability

Ear­li­er this month, at Cross­roads Com­mu­ni­ty Cen­ter and here on NPI’s Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate we unveiled the ini­tial find­ings from our first-ever poll of Belle­vue, Wash­ing­ton’s fifth-largest city, which show res­i­dents are dis­sat­is­fied with the hous­ing mar­ket and eager for their elect­ed offi­cials to take a “hands-on” approach to man­ag­ing growth through poli­cies like manda­to­ry hous­ing affordability.

The Seat­tle Times, the Belle­vue Reporter, KIRO7, and KOMO AM 1000 Radio all ran sto­ries cov­er­ing the pub­li­ca­tion of those find­ings, which we released in part­ner­ship with our friends at Com­plete Streets Belle­vue, the Sight­line Insti­tute, East­side For All, and the Hous­ing Devel­op­ment Con­sor­tium (HDC).

Today, as promised, our team and the Belle­vue Hous­ing Research Coali­tion have addi­tion­al find­ings to share that illus­trate the extent of Belle­vue res­i­dents’ enthu­si­asm for poli­cies that could get us clos­er to a future of hous­ing for all.

Visualization of NPI's finding that Bellevue residents support commercial fees for affordable housing

Visu­al­iza­tion of NPI’s find­ing that Belle­vue res­i­dents sup­port com­mer­cial fees for afford­able housing

These find­ings show that Belle­vue res­i­dents are broad­ly in agree­ment on a num­ber of ideas to tack­le the city and region’s hous­ing cri­sis, from cre­at­ing addi­tion­al home­own­er­ship assis­tance pro­grams to allow­ing the con­struc­tion of Acces­so­ry Dwelling Units (ADUs) such as back­yard cot­tages in every neigh­bor­hood to relax­ing restric­tions like build­ing height lim­its for projects that pre­serve exist­ing mature trees on the prop­er­ty rather than cut­ting them down.

Each of the ideas you’ll see below has the sup­port of a major­i­ty of res­i­dents, and all but one has the sup­port of more than two-thirds of residents.

Three ideas even have the sup­port of more than three-fourths of residents.

The inspi­ra­tion for many of the pol­i­cy pro­pos­als that we chose to explore with the Belle­vue res­i­dents inter­viewed by our poll­ster was the “Next Right Work” that the City of Belle­vue’s staff and con­sul­tants have been under­tak­ing in recent months at the direc­tion of the Belle­vue City Coun­cil to strength­en the city’s afford­able hous­ing strat­e­gy. That process has yield­ed many sub­stan­tive con­ver­sa­tions, but it has­n’t yet led to the deci­sive action that res­i­dents want to see from their Council.

Our sur­vey shows that a range of those Next Right Work ideas are very pop­u­lar with city res­i­dents and ought to be speed­i­ly embraced by the Council.

Take a look:

QUESTION: The Belle­vue City Coun­cil is con­sid­er­ing a num­ber of ideas to increase the avail­abil­i­ty of afford­able hous­ing through­out the city’s most­ly res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods. Please indi­cate whether you sup­port or oppose each of the fol­low­ing policies.

IDEAS & ANSWERS

Cre­ate addi­tion­al home­own­er­ship assis­tance pro­grams to sup­port first-time buy­ers and low-income households

Sup­port: 78%Oppose: 18%Not sure:
Strong­lySome­whatSome­whatStrong­ly4%
51%27%8%9%———

Encour­age the devel­op­ment of town­hous­es and rowhouses

Sup­port: 76%Oppose: 18%Not sure:
Strong­lySome­whatSome­whatStrong­ly6%
37%39%13%5%———

Allow the con­struc­tion of Acces­so­ry Dwelling Units (ADUs), such as back­yard cot­tages, in all neighborhoods

Sup­port: 75%Oppose: 20%Not sure:
Strong­lySome­whatSome­whatStrong­ly5%
41%34%8%12%———

Give devel­op­ers a “den­si­ty bonus” (allow­ing, for exam­ple, taller build­ings) if a min­i­mum num­ber of afford­able homes are built as part of the project

Sup­port: 65%Oppose: 29%Not sure:
Strong­lySome­whatSome­whatStrong­ly6%
28%37%13%16%———

Relax restric­tions like build­ing height lim­its for projects that pre­serve exist­ing mature trees on the prop­er­ty rather than cut­ting them down

Sup­port: 64%Oppose: 29%Not sure:
Strong­lySome­whatSome­whatStrong­ly7%
32%31%11%18%———

Remove bar­ri­ers to the con­struc­tion of tiny apart­ments (200–400 square feet)

Sup­port: 51%Oppose: 39%Not sure:
Strong­lySome­whatSome­whatStrong­ly10%
22%29%16%23%———

We also found extreme­ly high sup­port for col­lect­ing com­mer­cial fees to sup­port the cre­ation of more afford­able hous­ing through­out the city:

QUESTION: Do you agree or dis­agree with the fol­low­ing approach­es for invest­ing in afford­able hous­ing in Bellevue?

Idea: Requir­ing devel­op­ers of new com­mer­cial (retail or office) prop­er­ties in Belle­vue to pay fees that the city would use for afford­able hous­ing units

ANSWERS:

  • Agree: 69%
    • Strong­ly agree: 38%
    • Some­what agree: 31%
  • Dis­agree: 26% 
    • Some­what dis­agree: 11%
    • Strong­ly dis­agree: 16%
  • Not sure: 5%

Our hous­ing-focused sur­vey of 475 Belle­vue city res­i­dents was in the field from Mon­day, August 15th, through Fri­day, August 19th, 2022.

The poll was con­duct­ed entire­ly online for the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute and its part­ners by Change Research. It has a mod­eled mar­gin of error of 5.2%.

Fol­low this link if you’re inter­est­ed in a detailed primer on the survey’s method­ol­o­gy along with infor­ma­tion about who took the poll.

Bellevue city skyline, seen from across Lake Washington

The sky­line of Belle­vue, Wash­ing­ton, seen from the Mount Bak­er neigh­bor­hood of Seat­tle on an ear­ly autumn day (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

One of the high­lights from this set of results for us was the broad sup­port for town­hous­es, row­hous­es, and ADUs, which are all types of what is referred to as miss­ing mid­dle hous­ing. Opti­cos Design, which main­tains a web­site devot­ed to explain­ing the term, describes miss­ing mid­dle hous­ing this way:

These house-scale build­ings fit seam­less­ly into exist­ing res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods and sup­port walk­a­bil­i­ty, local­ly-serv­ing retail, and pub­lic trans­porta­tion options. They pro­vide solu­tions along a spec­trum of afford­abil­i­ty to address the mis­match between the avail­able U.S. hous­ing stock and shift­ing demo­graph­ics com­bined with the grow­ing demand for walkability.

Dri­ve, walk, or bike through Belle­vue, and you’ll find plen­ty of high­ris­es with pricey apart­ments, or large sin­gle fam­i­ly detached homes with three car garages, but far less of any­thing that falls in between. It’s evi­dent from our sur­vey that there is seri­ous demand for miss­ing mid­dle hous­ing in Bellevue.

I could­n’t find any­thing afford­able in Belle­vue. I have to live at my in-laws apart­ment in order to save mon­ey to buy a house,” a young man cur­rent­ly resid­ing in the New­port neigh­bor­hood told us. 

Over half my income goes to rent and I know many peo­ple in sim­i­lar posi­tions,” said a ten­ant in West Belle­vue who iden­ti­fies as a Strong Repub­li­can. They added: “Work­ing class peo­ple or peo­ple with low­er pay­ing white col­lar jobs can­not afford to live here. Not every­one works for Microsoft or Amazon.” 

I am con­sid­ered mid­dle low class. On paper I do not qual­i­fy for any assis­tance for my fam­i­ly of four. But between rent, gro­cery, and just basic liv­ing we have no mon­ey left over or we are under,” said a ten­ant who lives in Bri­dle Trails. 

We are not able to grow our fam­i­ly because we live in a tiny out­dat­ed 1960s ram­bler,” a Lake Hills ten­ant told us. “Even though we both work full time and make a decent liv­ing for a cou­ple bare­ly in their thir­ties we can’t find a larg­er home to rent or pur­chase. We both work full time too now in a 900 square foot three bed­room home. We feel suffocated.”

“Men­tal­ly, we are par­a­lyzed with anx­i­ety. We are stuck.”

The strong sup­port for the cre­ation of a com­mer­cial fee to sup­port afford­able hous­ing is also encour­ag­ing. Belle­vue’s down­town core con­tin­ues to grow, as the cranes that are cur­rent­ly part of the city’s sky­line attest, and the forth­com­ing open­ing of Sound Tran­sit’s East Link / Line 2 project will make Down­town, the Spring Dis­trict, and Bel-Red attrac­tive to devel­op­ers for decades to come.

Legal­ly speak­ing, com­mer­cial fees to sup­port hous­ing are per­mit­ted under Wash­ing­ton State law if the fee is imple­ment­ed in the con­text of den­si­ty increas­es or oth­er incen­tives. Our coali­tion believes a prop­er­ly cal­i­brat­ed pol­i­cy can both encour­age devel­op­ment and raise funds for afford­able housing.

It makes sense that Belle­vue should require devel­op­ers of com­mer­cial build­ings to con­tribute to the city’s hous­ing future. Oth­er­wise, it will become even hard­er for peo­ple who work in Wash­ing­ton’s fifth largest city to live there.

As we empha­sized two weeks ago, an out­right major­i­ty of respon­dents to our sur­vey (51%) said they “know some­one who works in Belle­vue but must com­mute from far away to be able to afford rent or housing.” 

Across the board, hous­ing prices exceed the means of a large frac­tion of the work­ing pop­u­la­tion in the city,” one Bri­dle Trails home­own­er told us. “Too many of Belle­vue’s work­ers can­not afford to live in, or even close to, the City.”

“First time home buy­ers can’t afford to buy in Belle­vue; many are forced to com­mute long dis­tances to jobs (espe­cial­ly teach­ers),” agreed anoth­er home­own­er, who lives in the Cougar Moun­tain / Lake­mont neighborhood.

Inven­to­ry is excep­tion­al­ly low for every­one, espe­cial­ly those who aren’t wealthy. What lit­tle is avail­able is often dis­con­nect­ed from trans­porta­tion and dai­ly ser­vices,” a ten­ant who rents an apart­ment in the city’s down­town core told us. “The car depen­den­cy is strong but the lived expe­ri­ence of dri­ving here is like dri­ving in a city with 3–4x the pop­u­la­tion & density.” 

“Local low­er pay­ing jobs are not being filled because no one can afford to live here on those wages,” a ten­ant from north­east Belle­vue told us, adding: “Who would drive/commute/transit to the Belle­vue area if they could find a sim­i­lar pay­ing job close to where they could afford to live?”

If Belle­vue wants to be an inclu­sive, wel­com­ing city, it needs a hous­ing mar­ket with homes that peo­ple of all pro­fes­sions can afford.

A mar­ket that is hyper­fo­cused on pro­vid­ing lux­u­ry dwellings to well-paid tech­nol­o­gy work­ers and serv­ing almost nobody else is a bro­ken market.

As men­tioned, the Belle­vue City Coun­cil is aware of the prob­lem, which is why they’ve direct­ed city staff to study solu­tions through Next Right Work.

Our research shows that many of these ideas aren’t just promis­ing, they’re over­whelm­ing­ly pop­u­lar with peo­ple through­out the city.

Belle­vue would be well-served if the Coun­cil moved swift­ly to trans­form these ideas from con­cepts on the draw­ing board to adopt­ed city policy.

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