Seattle is having a housing affordability crisis while also having an availability issue. Housing is expensive, it’s in great demand, but there isn’t much supply. And yet, maybe there is.
Check your empty bedrooms.
Gene Balk at The Seattle Times recently published an article that estimates there are 200,000 empty bedrooms in King County, and that’s probably low. Take a reasonable number for the homes of those homeowners older than fifty years old (144,000 houses), count up the third, fourth, fifth, et al bedrooms, and get to enough empty rooms to give more than a quarter of Seattle’s population another place to sleep. Realize that some of those houses aren’t even using their second bedrooms and the number rises. Realize that there are plenty of homeowners younger than fifty years old who have spare rooms and the number rises again.
As we just reported, there were only 2,611 new listings in Seattle in November. According to Zillow, there are 587 homes for sale in Seattle and 2,319 for sale in King County. None of those numbers are significant when compared to hundreds of thousands of empty bedrooms. If even one percent of Seattle’s or King County’s empty bedrooms became solutions for buyers or renters, the increase in supply would nearly double. The affordability of all housing would probably change.
Numbers are great, but reality is different - and the reality doesn’t just exist in Seattle. In B.C. and the U.K., taxes are being imposed on unused bedrooms and incentives are being offered to encourage people to downsize.
Government actions aside, this partly explains the increased popularity of AirBnB, mother-in-law apartments, ADUs, and shared living spaces. The Baby Boom built big homes that we continue to buy and sell. More affordable housing for renters, extra income for homeowners. Will those two incentives push and pull us into a new way of living in our spaces?