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C200: Affordability Is Critical To Great Cities!

2011 April 11
by Sarah Lewontin

< The Low-Income Housing Institute's Bart Harvey apartments for low-income seniors in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood; photo: Dan Bertolet - click to enlarge >

Great cities are places where people can live, work, go to school, spend time with family and friends, and have access to what they need and want.

Notice I said that great cities are places where people can live AND work. The fact is that many people who work in Seattle live somewhere else. (The same is true in many major US metropolitan areas.)

Why do people live so far away from their jobs? For some, it’s a choice based on the lifestyle they want. But for many people, it’s not much of a choice – we have to live where we can afford the rent. And without enough affordable apartments and homes in the city, where most of the jobs are located, many working people spend hours (and lots of money) commuting from far away.

Living far from a job often means spending less money on rent, but more on transportation. For working people in the Seattle, the total cost of housing and transportation averages more than 60% of household income! That doesn’t leave much for other necessities, much less discretionary items.

The money is a big concern for people who live from paycheck to paycheck working at jobs that we all rely on (health care support, child care, retail, janitorial, hospitality, and so on) – and so is the time that working people should be able to spend with their families.

The economy, the environment, and community stability all benefit when people have affordable choices of places to live close to their jobs, to services they need, to their schools and communities – and the city thrives. We need more housing choices that are affordable for everyone!


Sarah Lewontin is the Executive Director of Housing Resources Group, a Seattle-based nonprofit provider of excellent affordable apartments that enable low-wage working people, their families, and low-income seniors to live independently throughout their lives. She serves on the Boards of ULI-Seattle (where she co-chairs the Housing Affordability Task Force), and the Housing Development Consortium of King County, and is an active member of Leadership for Great Neighborhoods.

One Response leave one →
  1. April 17, 2011

    It’s unfortunate that housing is so expensive everywhere and follows market conditions – somewhat. Housing prices move up and down. But rental prices rarely ever move down. They may stabilize and go flat when things are bad but they stay there until it’s time to move up again. Many renters do so because they can’t afford to buy, especially in areas like California where prices are extremely high to buy. There seems to be a migration back to living in cities since they migration away from them began decades ago. Cities are making it more attractive now by putting in more public transportation and buildings for living and prices are still decent. Over time though, the prices will go up because of demand and people may move away to find cheaper digs. It’s a cycle that repeats itself. But the fact remains as you pointed out, “The economy, the environment, and community stability all benefit when people have affordable choices of places to live close to their jobs…” The real question is, How do we make that happen when people that own the homes for sale and buildings for rent want to maximize their profit?

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