Redefining economic success in Washington state – the first key is housing

Mar 10, 2022
Written by WR Communications

In 2021, the Washington State Legislature commissioned a comprehensive business competitiveness analysis of the State’s economy by the Legislative Committee on Economic Development and International Relations (LCEDIR). The project was to be administered by the Office of the Lieutenant Governor and produced through a collaborative process involving numerous contributors. This past month, the committee published their comprehensive findings.

The first key takeaway, or “Big Idea 1,” is the need for Washington State to “build more housing of all types that are affordable to all residents.” Why? Because the State has the fewest number of housing units per household of any state in the country.

At first glance, “housing units per household” might seem confusing. Understanding what this means will help reveal the problem facing Washington State’s housing crisis:

    • A household is essentially a person or persons who choose to live together in one dwelling, or “housing unit.”
    • If a couple shares a home, they are one household living in one housing unit.
    • If the couple divorces and then reside in two different residences, two households would be in two housing units.
    • If a neighbor’s home burns down and they temporarily move in with another neighbor, that would be two households sharing one housing unit.

So, 1,000 households living in 1,000 housing units might sound like efficiency, but it isn’t convenient. If just one household wants to move into a different housing unit, another household would have to move simultaneously—a little like the game musical chairs.

Applying the committee’s findings to the explanation above nationally, the U.S. has an average of 140 vacant housing units for every 1,000 people. However, in Washington State, with the lowest number of housing units in the country, we have just 60 unoccupied housing units per 1,000 households. If the available housing units were spread equally across every neighborhood in every city, we could make the situation work. That isn’t reality, and the situation is untenable. Washington’s housing shortage is one of the factors driving our homelessness crisis. Our homelessness rate, 3 per 1,000 residents, is well above the U.S. average—1.8 per 1,000 residents.

This housing unit shortage stresses the housing market, especially housing prices. The crisis is worsening as the number of units built has not kept pace with household formation over the last decade.

44% of Washington renter households spend more than 30% of their income on housing; 22% of renters are severely cost-burdened—spending more than 50% of their income on housing.

The answer to this housing crisis? Washington State must have more affordable housing, and we need it now.

Download the full report.