Hundreds Gather for Discussion on Housing Affordability in Seattle

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Panelists, from left, are: Zillow senior economist Skylar Olsen; Jake McKinstry, a principal at real estate firm Spectrum Development Solutions; Redfin Chief Economist Nela Richardson; and David Rolf, president of Service Employees International Union 775. Photo courtesy of Seattle Times LiveWire

Redfin Chief Economist Nela Richardson told a packed house at the University of Washington on Tuesday that a lack of housing affordability in the region and across the country boils down to one key issue: stagnant wages.

Nela joined a four-person panel to address the topic of housing affordability in Seattle. “Priced out: The struggle for an affordable Seattle,” was the third event in the LiveWire series of discussions about vital issues affecting the region, sponsored by The Seattle Times. What was intended to be a discussion of a local issue often addressed affordability as a whole, not just in the Seattle area.

Sanjay Bhatt, a Seattle Times reporter who moderated the discussion, began the conversation by asking each panel member to define affordability and why Seattle is becoming unaffordable. This was Nela’s response:

“To me, affordability is synonymous with incomes. You can’t really distinguish the two. An affordability problem is an income problem, plain and simple. And the issue we have had not just in Seattle but around the country is that house prices have grown more quickly than incomes. In fact, incomes have basically been stagnating for the middle class for the past 20 to 30 years. Without income growth in the face of high house price appreciation, you can’t have affordability.”

Nela acknowledged some of the attempts to address affordability, including rent control, inclusionary zoning, subsidies for homeownership and down payments and mortgage assistance, but said:

“We’ll talk about all these things, which basically make affordability a lottery. The lucky person gets the affordable home and everybody else is still struggling. But the key issue is income. And so, without an income solution, we won’t have an affordable housing solution.”

Her response received a round of applause, the first of many the audience gave the panel during the evening. The other panel members were Skylar Olsen, senior economist at Zillow; Jake McKinstry, a principal at real estate firm Spectrum Development Solutions; and David Rolf, president of Service Employees International Union 775. You can read about the event and watch a video of the entire discussion on the Seattle Times website.

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