Seattle is busy building the city. Over the past year construction cranes have once again dotted the neighborhoods surrounding the urban core, building apartments and office buildings. There are four city blocks under construction within two blocks of my South Lake Union office. Local and national media have jumped on the trend. Nationally, multi-family housing starts have ranged from one-sixth to one-third of the total over the past several decades. How has the ratio of single-family to multi-family housing starts varied in the Seattle metropolitan area?
The Puget Sound Regional Council publishes such stats, so I was able to make some charts. The first chart below shows total housing starts (in King, Snohomish and Pierce Counties) and City of Seattle multi-family starts, over the past 20 years.
During the 1990s, Seattle multi-family averaged at 9% of the total metro housing starts – a pretty small slice of the pie. During the 2000s, the Seattle multi-family average increased to 23% of the total, and to 30% of the total since 2007. When the recession of 2008 hit, housing construction tanked. But single-family construction tanked worse than Seattle multi-family. And now Seattle multi-family is roaring back to life, while suburban single-family plods along. The chart includes projections of Seattle multi-family construction based on these articles: it appears that by 2013 multi-family construction in just the City of Seattle could nearly equal 2009 total metro area housing charts. If suburban home construction continues at the same pace, nearly 50% of the total metro housing starts in 2013 would be apartments in the city.
Below are pie charts breaking down the annual housing starts for the Seattle metro in 2006 and 2010. Notice that the overall pie in 2010 is about half the size, while the Seattle multi-family slice has grown.