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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.

Monday, September 12th, 2022

New poll finds huge support for affordability-focused solutions to Bellevue’s housing crisis

An over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of res­i­dents in Wash­ing­ton State’s fifth largest city feel that the hous­ing mar­ket is fail­ing to meet the needs of the com­mu­ni­ty and agree that a stronger “hands-on” approach is urgent­ly need­ed to deliv­er afford­abil­i­ty-focused solu­tions for Belle­vue, a new ground­break­ing poll con­duct­ed for the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute and its part­ners has found.

NPI, Com­plete Streets Belle­vue, the Sight­line Insti­tute, East­side For All, and the Hous­ing Devel­op­ment Con­sor­tium (HDC) teamed up this sum­mer to ask Belle­vue res­i­dents about their views on the hous­ing mar­ket and hous­ing policy.

Our sur­vey, which our col­leagues at Change Research field­ed for us from August 15th — 19th, found wide­spread agree­ment that the sta­tus quo in Belle­vue sim­ply isn’t work­ing for res­i­dents or prospec­tive res­i­dents, along with a great deal of enthu­si­asm for promis­ing new poli­cies that could begin to change that.

One of the first ques­tions we asked was Do you agree or dis­agree that the hous­ing mar­ket in Belle­vue is cur­rent­ly meet­ing the needs of the com­mu­ni­ty?

A whop­ping 68% of the 475 res­i­dents sur­veyed said they dis­agreed, while only 27% said they agreed. Just 6% over­all expressed strong agree­ment, a fig­ure that real­ly stood out to us. Only 5% said they were not sure.

Visualization of one of NPI's Bellevue housing poll findings

The vast major­i­ty of res­i­dents we sur­veyed don’t feel the hous­ing mar­ket in Belle­vue is meet­ing the needs of the com­mu­ni­ty (Visu­al­iza­tion by NPI)

We next asked respon­dents to tell us about their hous­ing experience.

  • 51% said they know some­one who works in Belle­vue but must com­mute from far away to be able to afford rent or housing.
  • 46% said that hous­ing afford­abil­i­ty in Belle­vue is a prob­lem that has impact­ed them per­son­al­ly — and many took the time to share their stories.
  • 42% said that hous­ing afford­abil­i­ty in Belle­vue is a prob­lem that is impact­ing mem­bers of their fam­i­ly (chil­dren, grand­chil­dren, par­ents, grand­par­ents, sib­lings, oth­er close relatives).
  • 24% (near­ly a quar­ter) said they know a senior who can’t find suit­able hous­ing to down­size and remain in the Belle­vue community.

Just 16% said that it has been easy for them to find hous­ing in Belle­vue that meets their needs and is afford­able. 12% told us they know a Belle­vue res­i­dent fac­ing fore­clo­sure, evic­tion, or an unsta­ble hous­ing situation.

Giv­en the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion and a sig­nif­i­cant amount of antic­i­pat­ed pop­u­la­tion growth in the next twen­ty years, we asked respon­dents whether they want to see a “hands-on” man­age­ment approach from the city, or a “hands-off” approach.

Once again, we saw a huge divide. 65% of res­i­dents expressed sup­port for a hands-on approach, while only 19% pre­ferred a hands-off, lais­sez faire approach.

What form should that hands-on approach take? One of the most pop­u­lar ideas that we test­ed was a manda­to­ry hous­ing afford­abil­i­ty (MHA) require­ment, some­thing that many neigh­bor­ing cities are already doing.

A total of 78% of res­i­dents agreed that Belle­vue should require devel­op­ers con­struct­ing new hous­ing in Belle­vue to reserve a per­cent­age of units with­in their projects as afford­able hous­ing, like adjoin­ing cities such as Red­mond and Kirk­land already do. Just 18% expressed dis­agree­ment with this idea. 4% were not sure.

We also asked res­i­dents for their views on a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of addi­tion­al pol­i­cy ideas. We’ll share the results of those ques­tions in the com­ing days.

With 151,854 res­i­dents accord­ing to the 2020 cen­sus, Belle­vue is the sec­ond most pop­u­lous city in King Coun­ty and the fifth most pop­u­lous in the state, as not­ed at the begin­ning of this post. The city’s land area spans 86.7 square kilo­me­ters / 33.48 square miles, and expe­ri­enced pop­u­la­tion growth of 24.10% between the 2010 and 2020 cen­sus­es. Seat­tle, Belle­vue’s larg­er sib­ling across Lake Wash­ing­ton, expe­ri­enced growth of 21.09% dur­ing that same time period.

An aerial view of Downtown Bellevue, taken in late summer 2022

The sky­line of Belle­vue, Wash­ing­ton, as seen in Sep­tem­ber of 2022 from the Wilbur­ton neigh­bor­hood. The ele­vat­ed track­way of Sound Tran­sit’s East Link / Line 2 light rail line can be seen in the fore­ground. (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Though Belle­vue is a very afflu­ent city — 60% of our respon­dents said they make $100,000 or more per year, with near­ly a quar­ter mak­ing over $250,000 per year — the city’s hous­ing afford­abil­i­ty cri­sis has got­ten so bad that all but the very wealth­i­est fam­i­lies are feel­ing it. Even fam­i­lies with mul­ti­ple adults who are work­ing full time expressed frus­tra­tion with the city’s hous­ing market.

“Even though me and my hus­band are work­ing pro­fes­sion­als and make well over $215k/year, we could not afford to buy a home in Belle­vue at this point,” said one respon­dent, who iden­ti­fied as an Asian Amer­i­can / Pacif­ic Islander female home­own­er between the ages of thir­ty-five to forty-nine.

She added: “We do have some con­cerns that with the rapid­ly ris­ing prop­er­ty tax­es, we may get priced out of the home we cur­rent­ly own.”

“I cur­rent­ly rent an apart­ment which has recent­ly increased rent by 17% for renew­ing my lease,” said a male Asian Amer­i­can / Pacif­ic Islander res­i­dent who is between the ages of eigh­teen to thir­ty-four. “Even with the increase, we have no choice but to stay because every­thing else is way more expen­sive. My wife and I would’ve liked to buy a home and start a fam­i­ly but home prices are too expen­sive and there are not enough options that fit our needs.”

“I grew up in Belle­vue and cur­rent­ly rent,” said a male white respon­dent who is between the ages of thir­ty-five to forty-nine. “I make good mon­ey but still can’t afford even a starter home in Belle­vue. Hous­ing prices are going up faster then my abil­i­ty to make more mon­ey and save for a down pay­ment. Even though I am mak­ing more mon­ey every year. I feel shut out of the city I grew up in.”

“My fam­i­ly is blessed to have an income into the $100,000+ and we strict­ly bud­get,” said a New­port female res­i­dent between the ages of thir­ty-five and forty-nine who did not state an eth­nic­i­ty. “I have lived here my whole life, born at Over­lake. We have not been able to com­pete with the Wall Street firms, pay­ing 100k+ over ask­ing for an already over­priced house. We have the income and sta­bil­i­ty and by all account[s] we should have been able to buy a house years ago. Instead we spend over $40k a year in rent. My gen­er­a­tion alone has faced two eco­nom­ic col­laps­es, a dead­ly pan­dem­ic and out­ra­geous cost of liv­ing rise, col­lege expens­es and out­ra­geous housing/ food/ transportation.”

“I’m a stan­dard tech Yup­pie who has rent­ed in DT for ~4 years,” said anoth­er respon­dent, who iden­ti­fies as a white male between the ages of eigh­teen and thir­ty-four, and lives in the city’s down­town [DT] core. “I do want to buy, but I don’t need a sin­gle fam­i­ly detached home as a sin­gle per­son. Find­ing a con­do or even a town­house that isn’t priced like a Man­hat­tan apart­ment is rare, and what does become avail­able dis­ap­pears quick­ly for well over ask­ing price.”

“Had to move out — am in shared hous­ing arrange­ment now, but do not expect I will or able to stay. Need afford­able senior hous­ing option!” said a white female res­i­dent old­er than six­ty-five years of age. Anoth­er woman in the same age brack­et told us: “Would like to down­size to a one floor home, but would cost the same or more than the home I have now with no sav­ings for retirement.”

The above are just a sam­pling of the sto­ries that we heard from our respon­dents. They span every age and income brack­et. Peo­ple of many dif­fer­ent back­grounds in Belle­vue are in strong agree­ment: the hous­ing mar­ket is fail­ing and City Hall must take action to ensure that Belle­vue remains inclu­sive and welcoming.

Here’s the text of all the ques­tions we’re releas­ing today, and their responses:

QUESTION: Do you agree or dis­agree that the hous­ing mar­ket in Belle­vue is cur­rent­ly meet­ing the needs of the community?

ANSWERS:

  • Agree: 27%
    • Strong­ly agree: 6%
    • Some­what agree: 21%
  • Dis­agree: 68% 
    • Some­what dis­agree: 29%
    • Strong­ly dis­agree: 39%
  • Not sure: 5%

QUESTION: Please tell us about your hous­ing expe­ri­ence as a res­i­dent of Belle­vue, and that of the peo­ple you know (fam­i­ly, friends, col­leagues, or employ­ees). Check any of the fol­low­ing state­ments that apply.

ANSWERS:

  • 51%: I know some­one who works in Belle­vue but must com­mute from far away to be able to afford rent or housing
  • 46%: Hous­ing afford­abil­i­ty in Belle­vue is a prob­lem that has impact­ed me personally
  • 42%: Hous­ing afford­abil­i­ty in Belle­vue is a prob­lem that is impact­ing mem­bers of my fam­i­ly (chil­dren, grand­chil­dren, par­ents, grand­par­ents, sib­lings, oth­er close relatives)
  • 24%: I know a senior who can’t find suit­able hous­ing to down­size and remain in our community
  • 16%: It has been easy for me to find hous­ing in Belle­vue that meets my needs and is affordable
  • 12%: I know a Belle­vue res­i­dent fac­ing fore­clo­sure, evic­tion, or an unsta­ble hous­ing situation
  • 16%: Oth­er (please specify)

QUESTION: The City of Belle­vue has com­mit­ted to adding 35,000 new house­holds with­in the next two decades as its con­tri­bu­tion to the Puget Sound region’s expect­ed growth. Which approach to man­ag­ing this growth do you agree with the most?

ANSWERS:

  • 65%: Belle­vue should take a stronger “hands-on” approach to hous­ing and adopt more poli­cies that encour­age or require the devel­op­ment of homes that peo­ple can afford to buy or rent.
  • 19%: Belle­vue should take a “hands-off” approach to hous­ing, reduc­ing reg­u­la­tions and zon­ing require­ments, and let the pri­vate mar­ket deter­mine what type of hous­ing is built in the city.
  • 16%: Not sure

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

Idea: Requir­ing devel­op­ers con­struct­ing new hous­ing in Belle­vue to reserve a per­cent­age of units with­in their projects as afford­able hous­ing, like adjoin­ing cities such as Red­mond and Kirk­land already do

ANSWERS:

  • Agree: 78%
    • Strong­ly agree: 50%
    • Some­what agree: 28%
  • Dis­agree: 18% 
    • Some­what dis­agree: 7%
    • Strong­ly dis­agree: 10%
  • Not sure: 4%

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.

Like its north­ern neigh­bor Kirk­land, Belle­vue has a coun­cil-man­ag­er form of city gov­ern­ment and is gov­erned by a sev­en-mem­ber city coun­cil. The cur­rent Coun­cil con­sists of Con­rad Lee, Jen­nifer Robert­son, Jared Nieuwen­huis, May­or Lynne Robin­son, Jan­ice Zahn, John Stokes, and Jere­my Barks­dale. All but Barks­dale have been elect­ed to mul­ti­ple terms; Barks­dale is serv­ing his first term.

How­ev­er, unlike Kirk­land and oth­er neigh­bor­ing cities, Belle­vue has yet to embrace many of the ideas gain­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty in our region for keep­ing peo­ple in their homes and increas­ing the avail­abil­i­ty and afford­abil­i­ty of housing.

Staff and con­sul­tants have been study­ing ideas for tack­ling the hous­ing cri­sis and col­lect­ing feed­back from the pub­lic, but the Coun­cil has yet to take deci­sive action and imple­ment the kinds of poli­cies that res­i­dents told us they want in Bellevue.

As men­tioned, near­ly two-thirds of respon­dents said they want­ed Belle­vue to take a stronger “hands-on” approach to hous­ing and adopt more poli­cies that encour­age or require the devel­op­ment of homes that peo­ple can afford to buy or rent. And 78% — yes, that’s near­ly eight out of ten res­i­dents in the city! — favor requir­ing devel­op­ers con­struct­ing new hous­ing in Belle­vue to reserve a per­cent­age of units with­in their projects as afford­able hous­ing, like adjoin­ing cities such as Red­mond and Kirk­land already do.

Sur­pris­ing­ly, even half of Repub­li­can res­i­dents sur­veyed (49%) sup­port manda­to­ry hous­ing afford­abil­i­ty, which was strik­ing to us.

Repub­li­can res­i­dents were more divid­ed on the philo­soph­i­cal ques­tion of whether the city should adopt a “hands-on” approach to man­ag­ing growth ver­sus a “hands-off” approach. 38% of Repub­li­can res­i­dents of Belle­vue favored a hands-on approach to 41% who favored a “hands-off” approach.

Still, it’s impres­sive that so many res­i­dents who iden­ti­fy with a par­ty that has tra­di­tion­al­ly cham­pi­oned dereg­u­la­tion and lais­sez-faire eco­nom­ics think the city needs to be inter­ven­ing to address a sig­nif­i­cant mar­ket failure.

Once con­sid­ered a Repub­li­can bas­tion, Belle­vue is now indis­putably a Demo­c­ra­t­ic city. In our poll, 68% of res­i­dents who are vot­ers and par­tic­i­pat­ed in the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion said they vot­ed for the Biden-Har­ris tick­et, while 59% iden­ti­fied as Democ­rats to some degree. Only 23% iden­ti­fied as Republicans.

Demo­c­ra­t­ic res­i­dents, as you might expect, are in favor of deci­sive action and afford­abil­i­ty-focused solu­tions by mas­sive mar­gins. 77% of Demo­c­ra­t­ic res­i­dents want to see a “hands-on” approach, ver­sus 10% who want a “hands-off” approach to man­ag­ing growth. And 88% of Demo­c­ra­t­ic res­i­dents sup­port manda­to­ry hous­ing afford­abil­i­ty, while 10% are opposed. Inde­pen­dent res­i­dents are only slight­ly less enthu­si­as­tic: 81% of them also sup­port an MHA policy.

Lat­er this month, we’ll be shar­ing addi­tion­al find­ings from this poll that will nice­ly illus­trate the extent of Belle­vue res­i­dents’ enthu­si­asm for poli­cies that could get us clos­er to a future of hous­ing for all. If you’d like to watch the press con­fer­ence where we rolled out the find­ings dis­cussed in this post, that’s avail­able on NPI’s In Brief. We wel­come your ques­tions and thoughts on this research: you can get in touch with us through our con­tact form or leave a com­ment below.

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  1. […] 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 […]

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