This map shows the mix of housing in King County. The patch of bright red is Mercer island

Advisory group, council tackle affordable housing in Bellevue

This summer, the Bellevue City Council will have to answer some major questions about the direction of affordable housing in the city.

This summer, the Bellevue City Council will have to answer some major questions about the direction of affordable housing in the city.

Who can afford to live here? How can Bellevue keep workers who make less than the area median income? How are housing prices affecting health, jobs and traffic?

According to Mike Katterman, the city’s senior planner of the affordable housing strategy, a technical advisory group is working on those questions and then seeking council thoughts and approval before it takes a a break in August.

“The purpose of the strategy is to come up with a list of actions,” he said. “We’ll have general approaches and concepts before we take it to council.”

The picture of affordable housing in Bellevue is bleak for those making under the city’s average wages.

The average household income in King County is $88,000 a year. Minimum wage employees in Bellevue earn less than $20,000 annually. There are more than 9,100 households in the city that make less than 50 percent of the area median income (AMI) — that is, less than $44,000 per household, per year, according to King County Housing Authority and city of Bellevue data.

More than 30 percent of Bellevue households are at least “cost burdened” by rent or mortgage according to Katterman, which means those households pay more than 30 percent of income on housing. More than one half of senior citizen renters in the city are cost burdened by housing costs.

But, there is hope.

Councilmember Lynne Robinson has been at the tip of the spear for the council on affordable housing, working with other leaders on the issue in the area.

At a June 23 forum with members of the technical advisory group and the public, Robinson reminded residents of the costs of lack of affordable housing.

“If people can’t afford to live here, that means we have more people coming to work and therefore more traffic,” she said. “We need to have affordable housing across a range of incomes.”

During the July 11 City Council meeting, the members of the council heard a brief, informative presentation about Bellevue’s affordable housing strategy. The fully updated strategy will be presented in December for council action.

One idea floated included incentivizing developers to build affordable housing for those making 70 percent, 50 percent or even 30 percent of the AMI. Organizations like Imagine Housing and A Regional Coalition of Housing have limited funds to provide housing to those who live and work on the Eastside.

In the city’s 2015 human services survey, 68 percent of the 423 respondents said affordable housing was the No. 1 issue facing Bellevue, compared to 51 percent in 2013. According to census and housing data, Bellevue residents making less than half the AMI comprised 17 percent of the population, yet only 6 percent of all housing in the city was affordable on what they made. To plug that “gap,” more than 3,100 units would need to be constructed.

This was brought to light at City Hall when residents of Highland Village spoke on July 11.

These residents are facing an eviction date of Oct. 31 as a pending project to tear the 76 low- to middle-income units down to build 87 middle-income units. The residents have been alloted $3,500 by the developer to help relocate, but thats barely two months of average rent in Bellevue.

According to Taylor Marr, a data scientist for real estate site Redfin, there aren’t a lot of places for lower-income people in the city to rent or to buy.

According to Marr’s data, the average house for sale in Bellevue is snapped up in just seven days at over asking price. The average new condo built in the city sells for $850,000 while the average existing condominium sells for just $290,000. He said that less than 20 percent of all sold units in the city fit under the “affordable” guideline.

Tim Walter, a public housing representative with the King County Housing Authority, said that to “afford” average rent in Bellevue ($1,718 a month), a renting household would need to earn $75,000 a year. The average teacher in the Bellevue School District makes $68,000 annually.

The disconnect between lower-paid professions and a popular employment destination like Bellevue wasn’t lost on the technical advisory group. According to speakers at the forum, not only do developers make their money back much more slowly with “affordable” housing set at different levels, but if high-end apartments and condos are not built at a commensurate rate with the influx of well-paid technology employees, those employees will grab lower-end housing and further gut the limited supply for those not making AMI.

The Bellevue City Council will provide guidance to staff and the technical advisory group on how to proceed with this issue.

Note: A previous version of this story stated that City Council would take action in July. Action will not take place until December.

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