‘I’m going to be homeless’: Bellevue residents face soaring rent hikes

KING COUNTY, Wash. — Inflation keeps hitting families harder as prices continue to soar. Gas prices reached a new record overnight, hitting an average of $4.87 in Washington and topping $5 a gallon in King County, according to AAA.

But the hike that’s hitting people the hardest is rent increases. The King County Regional Homeless Authority says it places about 6,000 people and families into housing every year. However, that’s still not keeping up with how many people are becoming homeless.

Zetta Alexander is a grandmother and longtime Bellevue resident. She says after months of stress and worrying caused by a major rent hike, she narrowly avoided being pushed into homelessness.

“I’m 67 years old now and actually raising two grandchildren,” Alexander said. “I love Bellevue, that’s why I’m still here, but I want to have a voice for people to know what’s going on,” she said.

In January, she found out the rent for her two-bedroom apartment would be increasing by $700 — going from $2,500 per month to $3,200 per month, a hike of 28%.

“My first thought was, oh my goodness, I’m going to be displaced,” Alexander said. “I felt like, OK, I’ve never been homeless in my life. I’m going to be homeless. That’s how I felt, that was the scary part,” she said.

Alexander says she lives on a fixed income and already spends about half of it on rent.

She searched for months trying to find something she could afford, while everything else was getting more expensive.

“I go to the grocery store and what I probably could’ve gotten for $40, it’s probably $65 or $70,” Alexander said.

Meanwhile, she said she knows of families worse off, including one recently priced out of their home and into emergency shelter at Mary’s Place in Bellevue.

“No one is knowing this unless we tell it,” Alexander said.

As tech companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google and T-Mobile all expand their footprint in Bellevue, Alexander says it is changing the landscape.

“That’s wonderful, but it’s affecting this community — the people who’ve been here, the people who’ve supported this community for years. Now they’re pushing the community out. That’s just the bottom line,’ Alexander said.

In fact, the May 2022 report from ApartmentList shows Bellevue’s rent prices went up 21.5% over the last year, compared to 16% in Seattle and 8% in Tacoma.

“There should be more affordable housing, and I think there should be finally rent control, because it is out of control,” Alexander said.

Just last week, Alexander did find a place she can afford for about $2,400 a month.

“I was two steps from being homeless last week, and here I am now thankful I’ve found a place,” she said. Alexander says she does have kids in the area who she could stay with, but didn’t want to burden her children.

“Because you are Mom — and you don’t want to say, ‘oh, I’m scared,’ but it was scary, no doubt,” she said.

The traditional form of rent control was banned in Washington state back in the 1980s. Bellevue Mayor Lynne Robinson says the city is working to add affordable housing as quickly as possible. The city expects to add about 700 units in the next couple of years.