Why Not Downtown Renton?

Last week the Seattle Times reported that there are a great many not-wealthy people in this town. An analysis of 2014 IRS data by the Economic Opportunity Institute showed that 214,000 local taxpayers had adjusted gross incomes below $50,000.

This map from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies tells a similar story: the 2015 median income among Seattle renters was only $50,440. Coincidentally, according to HUD guidelines for King and Snohomish Counties, a single person making $50,400 is considered low-income.

As the Stranger points out, while Seattle has seen a significant influx of well-heeled newcomers in recent years, this growth isn’t enough to completely alter the city’s economic profile. So how can it be sustainable for rents and home sale prices to keep rising farther and farther beyond the less wealthy population’s reach?

But Curbed thinks that as long as Amazon keeps on hiring, the housing market will keep on skyrocketing. After all, between 2010 and 2015, Seattle only issued one unit of housing permit for every 2.3 new jobs.

This means the inevitable displacement of more and more existing residents. According to MyNorthwest, some folks are moving to Olympia and Spokane – not exactly viable options for those needing to stay within commuting distance.

Renton has high hopes for its downtown area to become a sought-after urban housing destination. Adopted in 2011 and updated this June, its City Center Community Plan calls for intensive residential construction.

In the City’s map of 2017 developments, the 101-unit Lofts at Second and Main has been given top billing. But I sifted through the list of land use applications and found no other downtown housing projects in the works.

In July, the owner of 99 Burnett Ave, a 28,048 square foot vacant lot in close proximity to public transit and retail, gave up months-long efforts to find investors for a planned 68-unit development.

Only 17 City Center single family homes have changed hands over the past year, with just 5 sellers receiving more than asking price. The area is not yet a target of Seattle builders’ old house to row house conversion frenzy.

Recent condo sale prices don’t indicate lucrative development returns. 2-bedroom units go for only $300K. But perhaps demand is on the rise. Of the 6 downtown condos that sold over the past year, 4 found buyers in less than a week.

Last month the City of Renton posted a Request for Interest on the redevelopment of 200 Mill Ave, a publicly-owned 1960s office building that once housed city hall. As the RFI puts it:

With its strategic location closer to major employment and manufacturing centers than other South King County cities, the 200 Mill Avenue site offers an option for millennials or downsizing boomers to shorten their driving commutes or take direct transit connections, while being able to live in a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood that offers everyday amenities such as coffee shops, parks and eating options.

In my early youth, as a commercial real estate analyst at LaSalle Partners (now Jones Lang LaSalle), I’d seen many cases in which public investments catalyzed private sector development. Will 200 Mill push downtown Renton into the ranks of those successes? I’ll be keeping an eye on how this story unfolds.

Posted on September 3, 2017 at 8:15 pm
Isabel Wang | Category: Uncategorized

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