British Columbia

Seattle struggles to fill empty rentals as Vancouver looks for housing solutions

Vancouver is struggling to address a critical shortage of rental housing while, just across the border, Seattle now has the opposite problem.

Vacancy rates are only part of the problem and can be misleading, says Seattle city councillor

The vacancy rate in Seattle is around seven per cent across the city, says Rob Johnson. (Getty Images/Flickr RF)

Vancouver is struggling to address a critical shortage of rental housing while, just across the border, Seattle now has the opposite problem.

A quarter of the apartments in downtown Seattle are sitting empty, according to a report by the The Seattle Times.

Landlords are trying to fill their empty properties by offering deals to prospective tenants with perks like a month or two of free rent and gift cards worth hundreds of dollars.

"It's great for you if you want to move into one of these new buildings that are opening downtown," said Rob Johnson, a city council member in Seattle.

"But the vacancy rates don't always necessarily correlate to affordability."

The vacancies rates around the city sit at about seven per cent compared to the roughly four per cent vacancy rate of the past.

Vancouver, like several other cities in British Columbia, has a vacancy rate of less than one per cent.

'Major affordability challenges'

There has been a real push to create more housing supply in Seattle through zoning changes and requiring developers to contribute to affordable housing, Johnson said, but supply is only part of the solution.

A big part of housing solutions needs to be addressing the skyrocketing rental prices, he told Gloria Macarenko, the host of CBC's On The Coast.

"We still have some major, major affordability challenges in this city," he said. 

"Although those new buildings downtown may sit a little vacant, we still have a more than 60 per cent increase in the cost of rent over the last several years for most residents who are renting."

He argued more "creative solutions" are needed, like encouraging alternative rental stock such as laneway houses, as well as focusing on density and building housing close to public transportation hubs.

"Let's make sure we are being very serious about growth and recognizing that if cities like ours don't make new housing, then that housing is going to be put further and further away from where people want to work and live," Johnson said.

With files from On The Coast.

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