Which cities have the cheapest housing? It depends how you measure

House for rent. Attributed to waltarrrrr.
House for rent. Attributed to waltarrrrr.

Some cities are more expensive to live in than others. Many writers and researchers have attempted to quantify the difference. One commonly used metric is the ratio of median home selling price to median household income. This makes intuitive sense; if home prices are higher, then people will spend more on housing, right? Unfortunately, this metric is deeply flawed. As an example, Detroit consistently ranks among the cities with the lowest price-to-income ratio, which would seem to suggest that it’s an affordable place to live. But an alternate measure—the ratio of median rent to median household income—shows that Detroit is among the least affordable cities. This metric isn’t perfect either (as the rest of the article will demonstrate), but it’s a lot more accurate than the first one.

How can these two measures be so different? Why is the incorrect measure so widely reported? And can this mistake teach us anything about how we should plan and build our cities?

Event Reminder: Seattle 2035 EIS Scoping and Comprehensive Plan Alternatives

Comprehensive Plan Presentation
Comprehensive Plan Presentation. Attributed to: Montgomery County Planning Commission

As The Urbanist reported last week, the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) will be holding an open house and presentation on the city’s update to the Comprehensive Plan. Here’s DPD’s event summary:

On March 24, the City of Seattle is holding an open house to discuss ways to plan for the growth expected in Seattle in the next 20 years. Learn about options for future population and job growth in Seattle, and comment on growth alternatives to be studied in an environmental impact statement (EIS). Public comments will help set the scope for the environmental study of growth alternatives.

Seattle 2035 is the 20 year update of Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan.

Staff from DPD and our consultant, Studio 3MW, will be there to answer questions, but more importantly to listen to your comments and learn about your priorities.

The meeting takes place tonight at 5pm in the Bertha Knight Landes Room at Seattle City Hall. The agenda is as follows:

  • 5pm-5.30pm: Open House with staffed displays about Comprehensive Plan, Seattle 2035, Growth Alternatives, Environmental Impact Statement Process
  • 5.30pm-5.45pm: Presentation about Comprehensive Plan and Seattle 2035 by DPD
  • 5.45pm-6pm: Presentation about the Environmental Impact Statement Process by Studio 3MW
  • 6pm-6.30pm: Public Comments on proposed Growth Alternatives
  • 6.30pm-7pm: Open House continues with staffed displays about Comprehensive Plan, Seattle 2035, Growth Alternatives, Environmental Impact Statement Process

Sunday Video: Stockholm’s Clever Subway Ad


This is one way to liven up a subway platform.

Angels on Second Avenue




In that doorway, over there on Second South, is where a woman goes at night. She injects and imbibes various assortments of drugs as her body shudders and moans, phasing through the different reactions, pushing out time and life.

Just down the block is where a shooting was last night; Sho Luv came by to tell me about it, looking unusually mellow. He still managed his usual “you old enough to have a license?” upon seeing me, gold teeth smiling thick and wide, but not as wide as usual. “I was gonna go over and wait for the bus over there,” he said, explaining his preference for the Third & James Street zone over Second & Main, “but something told me not to go up there. That’s when I heard the shots.”

His monologue today was a sober one, cascading between several intercutting topics- “knew a woman who got shot through the cheek, she was okay otherwise,” “my big brother, at the club down there,” “it don’t matter, anybody gettin’ shot is bad,” “I’m gonna stop inside 88 Keys,” “food’s alright,” “what are they called, the hairstyle, remember back in the, wha’s, casual in the back-”
“Mullets! Yeah!”

He walks over to the club, considering the pavement as it passes him underfoot. On the other side of this block is Third South and Jackson, where Troy Wolff died from an inexplicable nighttime stabbing in September; his girlfriend was injured but survived. I’m here parked on my layover, doors open by choice, proofreading stories in my journal.

Today the sky is low and gray, the wind coiling around brick facades, giving murmur to the empty historical structures. Garbage blows by, scraps of yesterday catching on uneven pavement. I hear a lilting soprano carrying on the wind and look up. Who could be singing like that, here? There is a boy across the street, climbing on the lower sections of a streetlamp pole. He is trying to tape up posters and adorn them with some sort of flag-like banner.

He looks to be early teens, black, in a green hooded zip-up and beige carpenters. The wind keeps rushing through his colorful flag-banner, forever stopping him from securing it as he would like, but there is no frustration in him. His gentle voice sings out soft and pure, angelic, over and over, a lullaby for a bedraggled square. It’s a repeated stanza from a previous age, and I can hardly believe it’s him. I watch him clamber up a few steps, precarious, as he strings tassels around the pole. The lyrics are lost in the whisk of air, but it feels like a forties slow piece, Ella Fitzgerald or early Nina Simone, maybe a song his mother sang when he was little. The block is mostly deserted. It’s just him and the wind and the litter, the flag-banner never quite cooperating, and now, his unfaltering soul singing out, now and now again.

Does his song keep him warm, I wonder? He is not discouraged by the repeating wind, by sullied decrepitude or the buckling weight of history. In his faint but unwavering voice is an outlook that completely revitalizes the space. Some might call him naive; I say he has the boldness to know something we don’t want to forget.

What We’re Reading: SLU Is A Boomtown

Terry Avenue in South Lake Union.
Terry Avenue in South Lake Union. Attributed to Transit Nerds.

Transit could be a lot better: At Seattle Transit Blog, your columnist proposes big changes to Metro’s South King County network, with Link playing a key role in the plan. The Rainier Valley advocates for a new Link Light Rail stop at Graham Street. Perception of good design for transit facilities may matter just as much as service itself in attracting ridership.

Or it could be a lot worse: Bus cuts are the antithesis to all the above.

The number of pink mustaches is too damn high: The Seattle City Council voted to legalize transportation network companies (TNCs, also known as “ride-sharing”). The bill will establish unified licensing and training procedure for the city’s various car-hiring services. More controversially, each TNC will be limited to 150 active drivers at a given time. Like any good compromise, no one is happy with the result.

Take a walk on the supply side: A Canadian company will deliver 1,945 housing units, in close proximity to Amazon’s new campus. As Dan Bertolet argues, this is cause for celebration, not anger.

Separate and unequal: Inequality is rising throughout the country, and especially in our cities. Interestingly, some cities are unequal because the rich are really rich, while other cities are unequal because the poor are really poor. Not that either one is a great place to be.

Urban adventurer: John Feit takes us on a wonderful tour of West Capitol Hill’s urban alleys.

But will the roasters earn $15/hour? Starbucks plans to build a specialty roasting facility on Capitol Hill.

Carmageddon, take 20: Basically every highway in Seattle is closed this weekend. Our prediction: nothing bad will happen, proving once again that transportation patterns are not set in stone.

It turns out that some people actually drive in Manhattan: New York City is considering a plan that would implement roadway pricing for Manhattan’s most congested streets and bridges. If you’re going to implement roadway pricing, then a borough where fewer than 25% of residents own cars seems like a good place to start.

It’s really happening: Over at Ravenna Blog, Rebecca has posted a beautiful photo series of North Link construction activity at Roosevelt Station and the Maple Leaf Portal.

Move King County Now Fundraisers


Move King County Now

On April 22nd, 2014, King County voters will decide the fate of Proposition 1. If the proposition passes, King County Metro will have a stable revenue source for years to come. If it fails, Metro will be forced to eliminate 17% of all transit service in the county. (See the end of this article for more information on the proposition.)

Cuts of this magnitude would be devastating. They would affect 80% of Metro’s ridership. They would add 20,000 cars to our congested streets. They would take away basic mobility from seniors, students, people with disabilities, and working families. We must ensure that Proposition 1 passes, and we need your help to make sure that it does.

Want to join the campaign? It’s as easy as drinking beer! Local groups are hosting several happy hours where you can learn more about our effort and find out what you can do to help us save Metro.



Reach Urbanist status, donate $600 today. Your donation helps ensure we can continue producing great content like this.

$ 600
Personal Info

Credit Card Info
This is a secure SSL encrypted payment.
Billing Details

Donation Total: $600


If you know about other events, please let us know and we’ll add them to this list.

If you aren’t able to attend an event, or if bars aren’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of other ways you can help.

Happy Hours

Beers for Buses—Bellevue
Monday, March 24, 2014
5:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m.
Bellevue Brewing Company
1820 130th Ave NE, Bellevue, WA 98005

Beers for Buses—Seattle
Wednesday March 26, 2014
5:00 p.m.
O’Asian Kitchen
800 5th Ave, Seattle, WA 98104

Seattle Subway Fundraiser for Move King County Now
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
5:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m.
Hattie’s Hat Restaurant
5231 Ballard Ave NW, Seattle, WA 98107
Special guest: Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien

Beers for Buses—Redmond
Monday, April 7, 2014
5:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m.
Redmond’s Bar & Grill
7979 Leary Way NE, Redmond WA, 98052

About Proposition 1

King County Proposition 1 would authorize two new revenue streams to fund Metro, local roads, and other transportation improvements. The measure would raise the annual vehicle fee by $40 (compared to today) and would raise the sales tax by 0.1%. Low income households would receive a $20 vehicle fee rebate.

Of the new revenue, 60% would be used for transit and 40% dedicated for roadway safety, preservation, and maintenance.

In addition, the measure would create a $1.25 low income bus fare.

You can read the full text of the proposition here.

New East Link Video


East Link Video

For those of you wishing East Link were open today, Sound Transit has given us something to chew on in the meantime. Sound Transit has put out a video visualization of the East Link corridor. The video focuses on the alignment from the interchange of I-90/Bellevue Way and Overlake Transit Center. Highlights of the simulation include station and transit facilities, three-car trainsets, and future transit-oriented development sites. Be sure you have time to watch in full though, the video runtime is 13 minutes.

On a related note, Sound Transit has also published the technical drawings (90% design) for the Northgate Link alignment from the Maple Leaf portal to the Northgate Station terminal tracks.

For more information on both projects, browse the extension pages of East Link and Northgate Link.

Seattle 2035: EIS Scoping and Comprehensive Plan Alternatives


Editor’s Note: In case you missed our previous coverage of Seattle 2035, check out DPD’s Background Report, which covers the city’s planning data from 1995-2012.

Comprehensive Plan Alternatives


The Department of Planning and Development (DPD) has been working hard over the past few months to plan for Seattle’s future growth. To do that, DPD must update the city’s Comprehensive Plan. The project has now moved into its environmental review phase, which means preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

On Monday, DPD (and consultant Studio 3MW) will hold an open house and presentation to talk about the EIS Scoping process and unveil three alternatives to the future Comprehensive Plan. The EIS will evaluate each alternative for its impacts and benefits of accommodating growth over the next 20 years. Some of the topics that the EIS will analyse include transportation, public services, housing affordability, health, social justice, and environmental resources.

Seattle has very specific growth targets for the next 20 years. The Growth Management Planning Council of King County has charged Seattle with the responsibility of accommodating up to 70,000 new households and 115,000 new jobs by 2035. Each alternative accommodates these levels of growth, but distributes them differently within the city. In brief, these are the general differences between the Comprehensive Plan growth alternatives:

  • Alternative 1: Urban Centers Focus – This alternative would primarily focus development in the city’s existing urban centres. It would achieve this by accommodating the vast majority of new housing and jobs through mid-rise and high-rise development within those centres.
  • Alternative 2: Urban Village Focus – This alternative essentially mimics the current land use development pattern of the city, but focuses more jobs in urban villages.
  • Alternative 3: Transit Focus – This alternative would establish two new urban villages to support high capacity transit investments already in the pipeline. Other urban villages could expand in size if in proximity to light rail stations.

The event begins at 5pm on March 24, 2014 in the Bertha Knight Landes Room at Seattle City Hall. The agenda is as follows:

  • 5pm-5.30pm: Open House with staffed displays about the Comprehensive Plan, Seattle 2035, Growth Alternatives, Environmental Impact Statement process
  • 5.30pm-5.45pm: Presentation about Comprehensive Plan and Seattle 2035 by DPD
  • 5.45pm-6pm: Presentation about the Environmental Impact Statement process by Studio 3MW
  • 6pm-6.30pm: Public Comments on proposed Growth Alternatives
  • 6.30pm-7pm: Open House continues with staffed displays about the Comprehensive Plan, Seattle 2035, Growth Alternatives, and Environmental Impact Statement process

You are encouraged to attend the event on Monday where staff will answer your questions and take comments on the growth alternatives. The scoping period for public comment runs through April 21, 2014. Comments can also be made through e-mail: 2035@seattle.gov.