Defining Workforce Housing for Seattle and King County

- Seattle Displacement Coalition: memo Joint Committee 206-632-0668 - 9/11/08

We agree, there is a shortage of affordable housing for the average wage earner in Seattle and King County.  Developing programs aimed at assisting these workers, however, should begin with an understanding of who makes up the workforce, what they can afford in the way of monthly housing costs, and then developing programs to fill a gap – where neither the market nor existing low income programs are adequate to serve their needs.

* Employment Securities current wage data for all workers in King County (including Seattle) indicates that the majority of all wage earners bring home a yearly income of no more than $42,200 (Source: See attachment 5 print out from Washington State Employment Securities March 2008 - shows all 640 worker occupations, how many working in each occupation, and average income for workers in that occupation assuming they work full-time)

* Currently the Annual Median Income for all households in King County (AMI) including Seattle  set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is $81,400 as of March 2008.  The average workers salary of $42,200 represents 51.9 percent of that median.  (See attachment 1 shows HUD's current area median income level for all households as of March 2008 plus the incomes for each household at 80,50,and 30 percent of median with rents that are affordable to each income group - HUD assumes a household should pay no more than 30% of their income on rent.)

* With the majority of workers earning at or below 51.9% of AMI, the chart below shows what an affordable monthly rent should be for these worker households. By comparison developers are asking for zoning incentives, tax breaks, and other subsidies when they set aside 10-20 percent of the newly developed units at rent levels affordable to those with incomes at 80% of median or above. That’s their definition of “workforce housing”. Next to the column showing what most workers can truly afford, we show what developers would charge in monthly rents if allowed to set-aside at 80% of median:

Size of unit

Rents average worker can afford earning 51.9% of AMI

What developer would charge setting aside at 80% of AMI




 1 bedroom



 2 bedroom 



 3 bedroom



 4 bedroom



 * Employment Securities lists annually all 640 occupations in King County and what average earnings are for each of those occupations.  Below is a graph that shows the percent of all occupations with average earnings at each different percentile of the Annual Median Income (AMI). You’ll see that 76.37% of those occupations have earnings below 80% of median (AMI) and could not afford rents for those at 80% of AMI.

Percentile of AMI


Percentage of all occupations





































* The number of workers in King Co. including Seattle, working at those occupations (with earnings below 80% of median) represents 1,103,000 workers or 79% of the entire workforce.

  * The picture painted above shows that the vast majority of the workforce earns much less than 80% of AMI with most earning at or below 52% of median. What these workers can afford in monthly rent (studio:$713, 1bdrm:$814, 2bdrm:$916, 3bdrm:$1018, 4bdrm:$1099) runs hundreds of dollars below rental units that would be set aside at 80 percent of median (studio: $1076, 1bdrm:$1230, 2bdrm: $1384, 3bdrm:$1538, 4bdrm:$1660).

* King County’s 2006 Housing Benchmark’s report (See attachment 2) indicates there is no shortage of rental housing units affordable to those with incomes at 80% of median. In fact, there is a surplus of 101,020 rental units for that income group. In all, 286,720 rental units or 93% of all rentals in the county are affordable to those at 80% of median. That same report identifies the shortfall of 68,400 rentals for those below 40% of AMI.

* Our recent survey of all rental units currently listed and available on Craigslist (See attachments 3 and 4) for selected neighborhoods in Seattle shows that 54% of 348 listings offer units at rent levels affordable to those at or below 80% of median. Few units are available and offered at the average workers salary of $42,500 or 52% of median. Our survey of newer and recently built apartment rentals also shows that a percentage of these are offered at rent levels affordable to those at 80% of AMI, raising the question: Why would we subsidize developers – give them tax breaks and zoning incentives to do what they are already doing without these public benefits?

* Attachment 6 also shows that the market now is producing rental units – so many that in Seattle we’ve reached 50% of our 20-year targets in just 4 years. 


In order for workforce housing strategies to work and fill the gap for “workers” where the real need is located, we must identify and develop programs that reach down and serve those at or below 50-60% of median and especially those with incomes below 40% of median.  That's where the need remains the greatest.  Subsidizing developers who offer a handful of units at rent levels affordable to those at 80% of median misses the mark and overshoots what most workers can afford to pay!

Data Sources: Office of Employment Security, Office of Housing and Urban Development, King County Government, City of Seattle, Craigslist,


- John V. Fox, Director Seattle Displacement Coalition 206-632-0668

            Special thanks to Lindsey Beach and Annie Sprague who assembled much of this research