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Seattle’s balancing act: jobs versus rents

At least by one measure, Seattle is very affordable

It is a balancing act: jobs versus rents, and Seattle does surprisingly well. Number 2 in the nation, in fact.

Seattle rents are some of the highest in the nation, and yet, people continue to move here. There’s a good reason, jobs. The trick for any city is to balance the two, lots of good-paying jobs, and affordable housing for those workers. While Seattle has an affordability problem, it also has many jobs that pay well enough.


Abodo researched the issue for the 25 largest cities in the U.S., ranked them based on the number of tech jobs per thousand jobs, ranked them based on the ratio of median salary to median rent, and then weighted the two measures. The only place that did better than Seattle was San Jose; not because our rents are affordable but because the good jobs pay here about 6.3 times the rents here. The general rule is that rents are affordable when the ratio is above 3. For those workers, Seattle is attractive and affordable.

This is something we’re seeing in corporate transfers and foreign home buyers. We may see Seattle as expensive, but relative to other cities with good economies, Seattle is cheaper.

If jobs only mattered, San Jose would win again. If housing only mattered, Detroit would win with a wage to rent ratio of 12.2, where one month’s salary pays one year’s rent.

We’re in a near-tie with D.C. and San Francisco based on the number of jobs available, but we excel at, ironically, having more affordable housing; for those workers. Expect to see more of them.

Seattle’s affordability issue isn’t for those workers, but for the non-tech workers, the people who support the rest. That issue isn’t resolved.