During his State of the City speech, Mayor Murray mentioned that 67 people per day moved to Seattle in 2016. If accurate, that would suggest Seattle’s population grew by 24,455 people in 2016. Now since Seattle’s population was already estimated at 686,800 as of April 1, 2016, it’d be safe to extrapolate that Seattle crossed the 700,000 mark at some point in late 2016.

Crossing the 700,000 mark may not seem like a big deal to folks who aren’t density fans, but I’d argue it’s cause for celebration. The 2010 Census pegged Seattle at just 608,660, meaning we’ve grown by nearly 100,000 new people in just six years. That’s a lucky thing considering how fast our economy has grown. And for the density folks, that means Seattle’s density is now around 8,350 residents per square mile, meaning we likely passed the city of Los Angeles in density while we were at it.

If Seattle didn’t make room for those people, then many more folks were likely to settle in outer suburbs leading to worsening traffic, pollution, and climate impacts. Or alternatively, our lack of housing and even worse housing price spikes may have driven that economic growth away from our region. Either outcome–increased suburban sprawl or a stalled economic engine–is not great for our city. So, fortunately, Seattle was able to welcome more people.

Of course there’s also the question: Did we grow our housing stock enough? Even setting a record for new units in 2015, prices still increased staggeringly. In July 2016, Mike Rosenberg reported on Zillow data that showed Seattle leading the nation in rent increases for the past year:

Seattle recently led the nation in rent increases. (Seattle Times)

For the first time this decade, rents in the Seattle area are soaring faster than in any other big city in the country.

The dubious landmark, to be unveiled in a Zillow report Friday, is the latest pain point for renters who have seen their average monthly costs soar nearly $500 in the last four years while incomes largely failed to keep pace.

The typical monthly rent in the Seattle metro area surpassed $2,000 for the first time this spring and is up 9.7 percent in the past year–growing at nearly four times the national average, Zillow’s data shows. That’s more than second-place Portland (up 9 percent), and third-place San Francisco (up 7.4 percent).

Much of Seattle’s growth has occurred in its downtown core. (Photo by author)

Housing supply tends to lag behind housing demand; it could be in the coming years supply finally approaches demand. About 10,000 apartments are set to open in 2017, and more than 12,000 more are slotted for 2018. At the very least, with record-setting apartment growth expected, we have ample reason to expect the population growth trend to continue. Since King County averages 1.8 people per apartment, we could see growth in excess of 20,000 per year continue a bit longer if those expected apartments are filled.

Another takeaway of hitting 700,000 so soon is that growth projections have been woefully low and need to be updated. Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development has still been citing a 725,000 forecast for the year 2035. That’s 18 years from now. We could conceivably hit 725,000 next year at our current pace. This is one reason why when neighborhood advocates say ‘we are already hitting our growth targets’ they largely miss the point. The growth targets we set turned out to be too low, and, anyway, were never meant to indicate a development stopping point so much as a planning tool. Too much growth in far-flung suburbs on the edge of the Urban Growth Area might indicate a problem; the distance between housing centers and job centers is a major driver of regional traffic congestion. But Seattle is the best equipped place in the whole region to handle the growth, and so it should.

Does the future projection look off? (OPCD)

The growth rates of wider King County might suggest Seattle is doing a decent job growing units relative to its suburbs. In fact, nearly half the new people moving to King County were accommodated in Seattle. We’d certainly like to see transit-oriented growth in surrounding cities too as East Link, Lynnwood Link, and Federal Way Link go online, and many of the connected cities are planning for it (see Lynnwood’s plan here). Thanks to these investments, we will have the transit system to readily facilitate the growth.

King County grew by 52,300 people, with roughly 24,500 in Seattle alone. (Washington State Office of Financial Management)

But for now let’s take a moment to celebrate our success: We’ve more than likely crossed the 700,000 mark. Moreover, on Tuesday we passed the U District Rezone not only clearing the way for denser growth, but also more equitable growth thanks to the inclusionary zoning policy known here as Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA). Let’s pass more MHA rezones to help add more housing, both market-rate and rent-restricted through inclusionary zoning.

Ed Murray Rolls Out Big Plans In State Of The City Address

A First Look At The Downtown And South Lake Union MHA Rezones

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Doug Trumm is the Publication Director at The Urbanist. He joined the exodus to Seattle in 2014, leaving behind his home state of Minnesota. Living on disputed land between Wallingford and Fremont, he is doing his best to improve both neighborhoods. He is a grad student at the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance and a marketing intern at King County Metro. His views are his own and do not represent his employer.

10 COMMENTS

  1. There are no limits to growth applicable to downtown Seattle? It’s capacity to absorb more jobs and residents is essentially infinite? Perhaps there are some limits, ones that we may be fast approaching. One thing that I know is not infinite is taxpayers’ capacity to continue paying the costs of accommodating unrestrained growth.

    • One thing that I know is not infinite is taxpayers’ capacity to continue paying the costs of accommodating unrestrained growth.

      First, of course, the more people move here, and the more jobs locate here, the more taxpayers you have. Economies of scale are a thing. A low population, no-growth Seattle was always going to be harder on local taxpayers in the end, when we would have to shoulder the burden for infrastructure replacement and repair without any added wealth to cover their share.

      Second, someone who is very proud of his role in making it a crime to build a simple duplex or triplex in the vast majority of the city really should also talk is if growth is “unrestrained.” You know that’s not true, because you (so far, successfully) fight hard to keep restraints in place!

        • Your work to prohibit duplex, triplex, and ADU/SEDU development in single-family zones – in a world where Seattle proper’s population is growing by 250 people every week – means there is increased demand for the housing already built.

          On Capitol Hill the vast majority of all types of housing is old. Increased demand for housing = increased demand for old housing.

          When demand increases for a good of fixed quantity, the price of the good also increases. Here, “good” = “old apartments” and “price” = “rent that can be asked and received for old apartments”.

          When the rent that can be asked and received for old apartments increases, the value of old apartment buildings – both real value and assessed value – increases too. Increased assessed value -> increased property tax on the property.

          In summary: You are the cause of the problem.

      • The infrastructure burden we shoulder is (or should be) for projected need, based on growth. The new taxpayers may arrive in time to pay some of it, but existing residents pay more. If we want to keep with infrastructure needs, and not disproportionately burden existing residents, we have to recover costs from growth – impact fees, and in other ways – but instead we bribe corporations to relocate here.

  2. Off topic But…today’s overturned truck should give real world data on what closing I-5 and thinking I- 405 can handle the extra traffic will do..take a look at the evening commute tonight Dougie..

    • I apologize for the snideness..I was at the Dr. with my elderly uncle this morn and i immediately remembered your idea from a while back when I heard both directions are shutdown for hrs, .then i bumped the send button..I usually proof read before and i would have inserted some polite in there..anyway, how do you feel abut planting buildings in the middle of I-5 nowadays..

      • Still believe in it. The situation yesterday isn’t analogous with what a planned I-5 removal downtown would look like.

        First of all, since the collision happened after the morning commute: Downtown was able to absorb way more cars than it was able to handle in the afternoon without I-5. In a removal scenario, the morning and afternoon capacity would be the same.

        Second, a planned removal would take place after East Link, Lynnwood Link and Federal Way Link and I-405 BRT go online meaning transit capacity and quality would go way up allowing the transportation system to handle the demand.

        Third, a removal would likely include a boulevard to replace some of the vehicle capacity and feed SR-520, I-5 north of the canal, and I-90 east and I-5 south. Plus, by restoring the street grid, a removal would make the network much more resilient in the event of a major collision shutting down one route. More east-west routes through the city would exist if the I-5 trench didn’t preclude them. By putting nearly all of our eggs in one basket, we invite disaster.

        If anything the flipped butane truck caused Traffic Armageddon yesterday showed the folly of downtown freeways in that they make the network very brittle and prone to catastrophic failures when something goes wrong. Removing I-5 downtown would limit spillover damage where bus riders are forced to suffer when car traffic spills onto their routes following freeway backups.

        My earlier article on removing I-5: https://www.theurbanist.org/2016/11/04/more-support-for-removing-i-5-downtown/

    • But at 1100 new residents per week in the MSA (according to the recent census report), how could a mere 469/week of them be moving into Seattle? I bet we reached the threshold before the 14th of Oct. But it is sort of like guessing which month the earth reached 7 billion (although a happier result in Seattle’s case). Deja vu!

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