Downtown Seattle has added 85,000 jobs since 2010, and nine out of 10 of new jobs in the city are technology-related.
That’s according to a new report from the Downtown Seattle Association, citing data from Emsi and CBRE. Housing has not kept pace with the job growth. Seattle added an estimated 32,000 housing units from 2010 to 2016, though the city is now building at a faster rate and the market is cooling slightly.
Rapid job creation in the lucrative tech sector combined with lagging housing development has created a crisis that disproportionately affects low- and middle-income Seattleites. In an interview with GeekWire, Downtown Seattle Association CEO Jon Scholes said the tech industry has been “unfairly blamed” for that crisis:
“I think the tech community has been unfairly blamed for the situation that we face today, which is this imbalance of jobs and housing that they’ve created in the last decade. The tech community did their job by creating lots of new opportunities and jobs for folks with great benefits and pay and 401Ks, and that’s what we want them to be doing. And we want them to be doing it in the middle of our city, not way out on the edge, which creates a bunch of impact. So in my mind, they’ve done their jobs and they’ve also been blamed for the pressure that the job creation has put on housing. But guess what? They don’t control zoning in the city. They don’t control those limits and regulations. That’s controlled by city officials.”
The tech industry was a key topic of discussion Friday afternoon at the Downtown Seattle Association’s annual State of Downtown event. More than 1,300 attendees gathered at Seattle’s new Hyatt Regency hotel for an update on the city’s urban core. The Downtown Seattle Association represents many of the big tech employers driving job growth in the region, including Amazon.
Scholes counted a series of experiments in Seattle over the past year as victories for downtown, including dockless bike-sharing and a pilot of UPS delivery cargo bikes. Then a photo of activists fighting over Seattle’s short-lived “head tax” appeared on the screen behind Scholes.
“There were some experiments that fared better than others last year,” he told the crowd, which broke out in reticent laughter.
That moment showed the shadow that the head tax has cast over Seattle as its tech industry, lawmakers, and community activists attempt to forge a path forward on housing and homelessness.
Last year, the Seattle City Council passed a tax on the city’s top-grossing businesses to fund affordable housing. Faced with opposition from Amazon and others in the tech and business community, the Council repealed the tax less than a month later. It was a bitter fight that created animosity between the tech companies adding jobs in the city and progressives who feel the industry isn’t doing enough to mitigate growth.
The tension has even followed Amazon to its new home; two Seattle City Councilmembers visited New York City, where Amazon a giant new office, to warn about the impacts of tech growth.
“This is a huge opportunity for us as a community to come together,” Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda told the New York crowd. “Because while we lost the effort in Seattle, the Mexican proverb comes to mind, which is, ‘they thought they could bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.’”
Scholes believes responsibility for the housing crisis should be shifted back to the public sector.
“I think those city officials need to begin to make some bold moves to allow more housing in the city or we’re going to continue to face that challenge,” he said. “They can continue to point the finger at the tech community and that’s not going to lead to one more unit of housing being built.”