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The city that solved homelessness

WEDNESDAY 28, JUNE 2017

by Joe Copeland – 

Construction is everywhere. The economy is booming. And yet Seattle’s homeless problem continues to grow. If we can’t even make progress in good times, the odds would seem to be against real solutions.

But there is one city that seems to have it figured out: Vienna.

European cities, in general, do much better that North America in providing housing. The Austrian capital, though, has had unusual success with housing issues that dog metro areas in the Pacific Northwest.

Vienna offers a vision of a city that doesn’t shove long-time residents to neighboring communities, accommodates a range of incomes, and actually has enough affordable housing that the homeless problem is solved.

The Austrian capital’s model has attracted attention in Asia, other parts of the U.S. and Vancouver, British Columbia, where political leaders have declared a homelessness crisis. Recently, a Museum of Vancouver exhibit, “The Vienna Model: Housing for the 21st Century City,” has provoked considerable attention.

In terms of people living on the streets, there’s just “no comparison, no comparison” at all between European cities in general and the U.S. or even Canada, says William Menking, the New York-based co-editor of a book, “The Vienna Model,” on which the exhibit is based. He’s in Berlin currently, where on a recent day in a working-class neighborhood he didn’t see a single homeless person.

Here are just a few of the many issues that Vienna has figured out: Mixing ethnic, age and income groups. Protecting open space. Aging in place. Transit-centered development. Building new train lines to the hinterlands before suburban housing developments are built.

These successes cut across the range of social, transportation and sustainability issues that Seattle knows it should tackle.

Some of Vienna’s housing uses the high-rise, easy-to-construct styles that generally flopped — often so spectacularly that whole buildings were demolished — in America’s public housing. Austria, like America, has a history of discrimination (Hitler spent considerable time there) and ethnic tensions; it approached its big housing projects with an eye toward creating a functioning society.

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Even before World War II, Vienna was working at bringing people together in attractive housing projects, not warehousing the needy and the working class. Architects sought to create a “garden city” for workers with an early low-rise complex, George-Washington-Hof. In the 1960s, a large, 11-story complex of prefabricated elements plopped in place by cranes was redeemed by individual units that were laid out to allow ample natural light, and by buildings placed in such a way that they create a park-like setting. By the mid-’70s, a complex with 20-plus story buildings — called Wohnpark (Residential Park) Alt-Erlaa — was being built for 7,000 people with spacious gardens, rooftop pools, saunas, preschools and more — a concept the exhibit organizers call “luxury for all.”

More recent innovations tend to use somewhat lower-rise buildings juxtaposed with a variety of walkways, recreational facilities, residence balconies and green space — all accomplished while creating enough density to support transit.

One recent housing project used generally low-rise construction and flexible floor plans to ensure that residents could have options as they aged to shrink their space or share their units with others — and the rooftop gardens are wheelchair accessible.

Those rooftop gardens, common in Vienna’s housing for people of all incomes, are starting to pop up in a few new developments here — for those who can afford the steep-even-for-Seattle rents.

Vienna certainly has advantages: The federal government covers more than half of the roughly $700 million a year spent there on “social housing,” the subsidized units that house about 60 percent of the city’s population. These dwellings have some sort of subsidy for construction or operation, a concept that’s very different from the public housing practices in this country that give a small percentage of people a break but come nowhere near making rents broadly affordable.

The city also owns a lot of land where it can develop the housing complexes (at least one Viennese architect advises never selling public land). And it uses its advantages smartly: Menking says that the practice of awarding housing projects to nonprofits encourages collaborations with architects, and quality counts in making awards. The result: housing that incorporates — and creates — the best of urban life.

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Sargfabrik includes a kindergarten, restaurant, library and rehearsal room. Credit: Miriam Kittel

As Sharon Lee of Seattle’s Low Income Housing Institute notes, about 100,000 households here are paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing, many of them forking out more than 50 percent. Seattle could benefit from 60,000 more affordable units, she says — not the 50,000 total new units, most at market rate, that the mayor hopes to see built.

Vienna’s tradition is vastly different than ours; it’s supported by people who are willing to pay taxes for housing, health care and transit. There’s no prospect at the moment that national politics in the United States will lead to the kind of federal support that would make a huge difference in housing affordability.

But Seattle’s voters have acted almost European in approving taxes for transit and housing. Although the city turns the Vienna model of mixing incomes upside down by allowing developers to fund affordable housing elsewhere rather than including it in their own buildings, it does have some experience in making use of the nonprofit sector along Austrian lines.

LIHI’s Lee points out that, beyond Seattle’s longstanding housing levy, there’s a new factor. Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Lisa Herbold managed to insert $29 million in housing bonds into the city budget for this year. Lee thinks the idea could tap into the kind of spirit that energized Seattle’s campaign for a $15 per hour minimum wage.

Jonathan Rosenblum, the author of a book about that campaign called “Beyond $15,” has been writing about the need for “a massive public housing program” in Seattle. His idea for financing it would be a local version of an income tax. That likely raises issues with the state constitution, which courts have interpreted as barring any income tax unless it were a flat rate. But where there’s a will, there may be a way to tackle at least part of the need.

It’s not something that will happen overnight. But perhaps we can take some small consolation — confidence — in knowing that Vienna’s emphasis on affordable residences dates from a housing crisis a century ago.

This series is made possible with support from Comcast. The views and opinions expressed in the media, articles, or comments on this article are those of the authors and do not reflect or represent the views and opinions held by Comcast.

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5 questions to help you plan for buying a home:

Planning to Buy? Got a Plan for What Comes After?

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5 questions help you look ahead to home ownership.

 

Buying a home comes with a huge financial stake, a lot of responsibility, and even more fine print. While investing in this aspect of the American dream is exciting, it’s important to reflect on your current and future plans before buying. Here are five questions to consider:

1. What Are Your Goals for the Next 5 to 7 Years?

Are you happy with your job and feeling content with how your life is going? Do you anticipate any career, family, or financial changes in the next few years?

If you’re considering growing your family or changing careers, factor into your budget any anticipated changes, such as extra room for a baby or an income cut. That’s better than taking a financial loss by having to turn around and sell your new property.

2. What Will It Cost to Both Purchase and Own Your New Property?

A general rule of thumb is to keep your PITI (principal, interest, taxes, and insurance) costs below 28% of your gross monthly income, while your overall debt-to-income ratio should be no more than 36%.

Are you buying a bigger space than what you currently have? Don’t forget to factor in increased heating and cooling costs. Also, plan for homeowner’s association dues if applicable.

In addition to the funds you have for your down payment, don’t overlook the following expenses you’ll incur once you purchase your home:

  • Moving costs
  • Closing costs
  • Home repairs
  • Painting
  • New appliances
  • Fixtures
  • Furniture

I recommend opening a separate savings account in addition to your down payment fund to save for these expenses.

3. What’s Your Credit Score?

Your credit score is your financial report card, except it will follow you long after college. This number can either save or cost you thousands of dollars when it comes to locking in an interest rate on your mortgage. The lower your score, the higher your interest rate and the more you’ll pay to borrow from a lender. The higher your credit score, the lower your interest and the more money you’ll keep in your pocket.

If you have any issues on your credit report, tackle them as soon as possible.

4. How Will You Handle Home Repairs and Maintenance?

Is there a lawn to mow or a pool to clean? Do you enjoy the idea of tinkering with appliances and fixing things around the house? Consider if you’ll DIY or delegate. If you’re a delegator, price services ahead of time to ensure there’s room in your budget.

One of the first things I told my husband upon seeing our new backyard was that I don’t do landscaping. Apparently, neither does he, because 12 months in, we have a monthly line item in our budget for a gardener.

5. How Will Your Ideal Location Affect Your Monthly Nut?

It’s important to consider more than just the home price in your desired community. Will you be farther from or closer to work? How will your home’s location affect your commuting costs? Our family purchased in a community that has a toll road, so we’ve added tolls to the monthly budget.

In addition to transportation costs, consider whether your food and utility costs will increase or decrease, and whether you’ll enroll kids in the local school district or opt for private schooling.

Seattle sphere craze continues with giant dome planned atop skyscraper

A new residential tower planned at 3rd and Virginia in Seattle would include a giant sphere that tops out at 499 feet above the street, according to plans developer Westbank submitted to the city. 

A new residential tower planned at 3rd and Virginia in Seattle would include a giant sphere that tops out at 499 feet above the street, according to plans developer Westbank submitted to the city. (Courtesy of Westbank development)

The project just unveiled at Third Avenue and Virginia Street in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood features a dome that, at its peak, would sit nearly 500 feet above the street.

 


Seattle millennials think that to buy a starter condominium they would need $41,720 for the standard down payment of 20 percent….

From Marc Stiles and the Puget Sound Business Journal: 

“A new report by a company called Apartment List found that Seattle millennials think that to buy a starter condominium they would need $41,720 for the standard down payment of 20 percent. In reality, they would need nearly $61,400 for the down payment on a condo in the Puget Sound region, where the median price is $306,900.”

Leah Zamir  with Guild Mortgage in Seattle says, “Let me be clear…this is simply not true.  You do not need $61,400 to purchase a condo.  Now, if you’re trying to avoid paying mortgage insurance, sure, you would need $61,400 + another $6,000 or so for closing costs and prepaid taxes/homeowners insurance to hit that magical 20% equity mark where you don’t have to pay mortgage insurance.  However, there are loan programs offered through Washington State that offer down payment assistance to borrowers covering ALL of a borrowers down payment, leaving millennials only needing enough money to cover closing costs (and even then, those can be covered by the seller if the buyer is lucky).  So now we’re left with whether or not it’s prudent to save enough to get out of mortgage insurance, or buy the house/condo sooner, but pay mortgage insurance.  Well, let me just insert a slide from one of my home buyer classes here:

In the end, Marc isn’t incorrect in his calculations; I just wish the amazing loan programs that allow buyers to get into homes sooner than they might think, and therefore allow them to take advantage of our incredible real estate market were more widely known. ”

Please, if you or someone you know would like to own a home but doesn’t think they A) Have enough for down payment, or B) Their credit isn’t good enough, or C) Their income isn’t high enough – Please have them contact me and I will send you to a few lenders to explain this in more detail. There are great programs out there guys!

To read the full article by Marc Stiles:  http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/news/2017/05/26/seattle-millennials-want-to-buy-house.html

Seattle housing market tops nation in bidding wars and price gains

Originally published May 30, 2017 at 6:51 am Updated May 30, 2017 at 11:01 am

Price gains for homes here have led the nation every month since September, and now the local market is also the most competitive in the country.

As Seattle tops the country for home price growth for the seventh straight month, the local real estate market has gotten so competitive that it’s now nearly impossible to avoid a bidding war.

The monthly Case-Shiller home price index, released Tuesday, showed single-family home prices across the Seattle metro area in March increased 12.3 percent from a year prior — the fastest growth in more than three years.

The local price gains, again easily the largest of any major metro, were more than twice the national average of 5.8 percent.

Fastest-rising home prices compared with a year ago

1. Seattle +12.3%

2. Portland +9.2%

3. Dallas +8.6%

4. Denver +8.4%

5. Boston +7.7%

Source: Case-Shiller home price index

Even compared to a month prior, Seattle-area prices rose 2.6 percent — also by far the fastest growth in the country and more than three times the national average.

There are simply far more interested buyers than homes for sale, and the imbalance is growing. That means when a house does come on the market, it can create a feeding frenzy.

New data from Redfin shows about 90 percent of houses for sale in the city of Seattle over the last two months wound up in a bidding war. That’s the most since records began at the start of this decade.

Seattle had the highest rate of bidding wars of any city Redfin tracks, which includes hot markets like San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Portland, Denver, Boston, Austin and Washington, D.C.

As the number of homes for sale keeps dropping to historic lows, bidding wars here have only increased. Three years ago, 71 percent of homes attracted multiple offers. At the beginning of the decade, less than half did.

All those extra offers often means prices go higher. The Redfin data shows nearly two-thirds of homes in Seattle sold for more than the list price in April, which is the highest rate since those records began at the start of the decade. The typical single-family house in the city last month sold for a record $722,000.

All those offers means more stress for home shoppers, too. Qualified buyers have said it can take six months to a year just to buy a house, largely because they keep losing to people who submit higher bids. The competition is at its fiercest this time of year as a majority of home buyers come out for the real estate market’s peak spring season.

It’s not rare for a house to attract several offers — in some cases, a dozen or more offers can escalate the winning bid to more than $100,000 above the asking price. To stand out, some buyers have resorted to waiving contingencies and inspections, and submitting a bigger portion of their offer in nonrefundable cash sums.

And because houses can go so quickly, buyers often need to pull the trigger and submit an offer on a home within days — or even hours — of it hitting the market, which allows for less due diligence. There are even stories of buyers from outside the area submitting escalating bids on houses sight unseen.

By: Mike Rosenberg – Seattle Times business reporter

How much is my HOME worth in Seattle?

Image result for cute seattle mid century modern

How much is your home worth in Seattle, Washington?  If you are planning on selling your home, that is a question you need answered.  As your Local Seattle Real Estate Expert & REALTOR, I can help you to learn the answer to that question.  I will personally do the research on your behalf and provide you with a detailed Free Market Analysis.  Please feel free to take a few moments to complete the basic information below and I will go straight to work for you.  Or, if you prefer, please feel free to give me a call directly at 206-954-1099.

Washington unemployment drops to near-record low

Washington’s robust job numbers continued to move the jobless rate downward in March, as unemployment fell to the lowest rate since August 2007.

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According to the latest numbers from the Employment Security Department, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate went down from 4.9 to 4.7 percent in March. That’s almost a full percentage point better than the statewide unemployment rate in March last year, which stood at 5.6 percent.

“Washington has one of the better growing economies in the nation,” said Paul Turek, economist for the department. “Strong job growth has pushed the unemployment rate down further as more workers find jobs.”

Washington employers added 10,700 nonfarm jobs in March. Year over year growth remains strong as well, with the state adding an estimated 92,000 new jobs from March 2016 to March 2017, not seasonally adjusted. The private sector grew by 3.1 percent or 80,200 jobs, and the public sector increased by 2.1 percent, adding 11,800 jobs.

Twelve of the state’s 13 industry sectors added jobs year over year, with manufacturing (shedding 5,800) the only sector to report job losses.

http://www.businessexaminer.com/blog/April-2017/Washington-unemployment-drops-to-near-record-low/

Apr 19, 2017 – 03:51 PM