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The rise of the renter: For the first time in decades, Seattle has as many renters as homeowners

Gene Balk, The Seattle Times on

Published in Home and Consumer News

SEATTLE -- For decades, Seattle has been primarily a city of homeowners, but those days may be coming to an end. It's one of the many ways that the city's current population boom has been transformative.

According to census data, a record 360,000 Seattle residents lived in rental units in 2018 -- a 16% jump from just five years earlier. And with their surging numbers, renters pulled just about even with homeowners, whose numbers increased at half the rate for the same period.

Assuming the trend continues, renters will soon be in the majority, something we haven't seen since before 1950.

Why is it happening?

The trend isn't unique to Seattle. Renters are on the rise in nearly every big U.S. city since the Great Recession, when homeowneship rates took a big hit.

In Seattle, the majority of people flooding into the city this decade have been younger -- three out of four new arrivals are adults under age 40, according to census data. Needless to say, most of these folks are not in a financial position to buy a home in the overheated Seattle market -- or even if they are, they may not be at a point in their lives where homeownership makes sense.

 

So Seattle's population boom has also been a renter boom, and it has set off an unprecedented explosion in apartment-building construction.

Ryan Moyes lives in one of those new buildings. The 24-year-old Las Vegas native shares a tiny studio apartment on Capitol Hill with his girlfriend.

Moyes says higher salaries and better career opportunities drew him to Seattle: "I didn't envision living here post-college," he said. "If it were just a choice, I would definitely want to live in Las Vegas, but there's a huge disparity in wages."

Of course, it's also a lot more expensive to live in Seattle than Las Vegas. But in addition to his full-time job as a business-development associate, Moyes and his girlfriend serve as property managers for their apartment building, for which they receive a rent credit. That's made Seattle much more affordable for them.

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