Businesses shackled by Seattle's strict zoning laws

Businesses shackled by Seattle's strict zoning laws

Several key factors play into a business choosing to relocate. One of which is affordability.

SEATTLE, Wash. — A large swath of Seattle’s land zoned for residential development only allows single-family homes. It’s clear this is contributing to the number of available homes, especially affordable ones.

And there are potentially long-term negative effects of Seattle’s zoning laws on the business community.

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Matthew Gardner, chief economist at Windermere Real Estate, told Seattle’s Morning News that his biggest concern for the city is housing prices.

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If a company is looking to relocate, there are several key factors. One is a talented workforce, which Seattle has. Another is how much a company has to pay its employees, with a city’s cost of living being a major component.

“Ultimately, at some point, companies will say, wow, you’re too expensive,” Gardner explained. “We don’t want to become another San Francisco. That’s what we’re seeing right now.”

There is a flood of people from the Bay area moving north because housing prices are cheap — compared to San Francisco.

“So, at what point do people start saying Seattle is not good?” Gardner asked.

He says we may see companies eyeing the Eastside more and more. Or even choosing cities such as Boise, Idaho or Spokane over Seattle. Sorry, Pierce County, he says not even a business incentive will get technology companies to shift that far south.

Which means Seattle affordability crisis may be more widespread.

Earlier this month, The Seattle Times reported that in 2017, nearly 90 percent of new housing in the city was built in 18 percent of land zoned for residential. The median price of a single-family home is now pushing $820,000.

But there are steps being taken. In an effort to address the lack of affordable housing, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced a streamlined process to build backyard cottages — an effort that has long been stalled at city hall. Durkan ordered the Department of Construction and Design to fast track pre-approved designs for backyard cottages.

Additionally, people who cannot afford a home may be relieved to hear apartments are being overbuilt and rent may soon be on the decline. In fact, Gardner says the city is already seeing that.

“We went from supply-demand balance to actually being oversupplied,” he said.

Still, average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is approximately $2,000.