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Tacoma Has The Region's Fastest-Rising Rents, Report Says

"Color block living" by Sheila Sund is licensed under CC by 2.0

Four neighborhoods in Tacoma top a new list of the Seattle area's fastest-rising rents, according to a report that could intensify concerns about affordability in a city once viewed as a housing bargain.

Rents in central Tacoma rose nearly 10 percent over the past year to $1,591, putting it at the top of the list, according to the real-estate company Zillow.

Three other Tacoma neighborhoods followed close behind. Everett's Westmont neighborhood came in fifth with a rent increase of just over eight percent.

It's the result of a yearslong trend in communities surrounding Seattle, said Zillow economist Sarah Mikhitarian. 

"A lot of what we’re seeing currently is this spillover effect," she said. "Seattle is getting so expensive that people are increasingly looking to other cities nearby that are slightly more affordable." 

As populations have swelled in cities like Tacoma and Everett, demand for apartments has spiked while supply has lagged, Mikhitarian said.

Tacoma is still cheaper than Seattle, but the gap is shrinking. Tacoma's rental market is heating up as the broader region's cools down.

Zillow defines the Seattle metro area as King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. Rents in that whole area rose nearly six percent between May 2016 and May 2017. A year later, the increase is more modest: just over three percent.

In Tacoma, meanwhile, rent increases have accelerated to more than seven percent this year over last. 

Tiki tenants almost out of time


Tacoma's declining affordability exploded into public view in April, when tenants facing a mass eviction packed City Council meetings to plead for help. 

Residents of the Tiki Apartments are now days away from a July 2 deadline to move out, as a new landlord renovates the complex. City Council members had negotiated an extension for tenants who initially had less than a month to vacate. 

While most tenants have found new homes, occupants of two units are likely to become homeless, said an official at a nonprofit helping them. 

"There is no tangible solution that we've been able to come up with," said James Pogue, who oversees homeless outreach for Comprehensive Life Resources. "We're looking at shelter options and emergency response."

Caseworkers with the nonprofit tried to secure housing for tenants in 36 units. Some were placed in shared living situations while others sought financial help from relatives in order to afford apartments in Tacoma's new market.  

Obstacles included the city's rising rents and the fact that many tenants at the complex are disabled and on fixed incomes of under $800 a month. 

Pogue said their plight highlights a trend he's observed in Pierce County: More people becoming homeless for purely economic reasons. 

"We have people who are fully employed with no mental health issues and no substance abuse issues who work [for] $15 an hour who are finding that they can’t afford the cost of rent increases," he said. 

Pleas by Tiki Apartments tenants galvanized activists around calls for more affordable housing and spurred City Council members to bring Tacoma's rental protections more in line with Seattle's. 

City Council members are now working on an affordable housing strategy for Tacoma, which they hope to pass by August. It could include zoning changes designed to incentivize the construction of affordable housing as well as new tenants-rights laws. 

Will James reports and produces special projects, including podcasts and series, for KNKX. He created and hosted the Outsiders podcast, chronicling homelessness in Olympia for more than a year, in partnership with The Seattle Times.
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