Seattle IS Growing (It's Not Your Imagination)

The Seattle Times is reporting that, for the first time in 100 years, Seattle is growing faster than the suburbs that surround it.  During 2011-2012, Seattle's population outpaced King County's by 25%.

Seattle is the 8th fastest growing city in the U.S. of the 50 largest cities (Austin, Texas is number one).

So was this - as the district's freelance demographic consultant said a couple of years back - caused by families who might ordinarily have moved to the suburbs but didn't (either they wanted to stay and/or the recession)?  Or is it just temporary?  Car culture suburbs or dense, walkable city?

I can only say you can't swing a dead cat in this town without encountering construction.  I live by Roosevelt and that light rail station work is really heating up.  Ditto on downtown (the Mercer Mess is still the Mercer Mess), Ballard and Capital Hill. 

If it continues, SPS will have some hard decisions to make.  Double-shifts for high schools?  Leasing space (when there is no SPS space left)?


Eric B said…
I think this has a couple of factors in addition to housing prices:

Gas at $3-$4/gallon radically changes the economics of commuting. Traffic makes transiting the lake in a single-occupant vehicle a royal pain.

Corporate buses to Microsoft and other tech giants make the commute less painful from Seattle to the Eastside. If one parent works in Seattle and one at MS, it makes more sense to live in Seattle.

Young parents want to raise children in the city.

Assignment areas a sort of predictable (OK, stop laughing!), so people can buy a house in desirable school assignment areas and be relatively certain of getting to go there.

SPS has a pretty good set of offerings overall, so there isn't as much drive to leave for "good schools."

At least in Ballard, home prices are up past the pre-recession levels, so underwater mortgages shouldn't be holding people in place if they want to move.
Anonymous said…
Just a few things to keep in mind about this data

-This article talks about growth relative to King County. As the article states, Seattle's population growth outpaced King County's by 25%.
-If you take a look at the chart included in the article, Seattle's growth rate actually appears lower in 2010-12 as compared to 2000-2010.
-From this chart, it also appears that for now this reversal in relative population growth is due to the decline in growth of the suburbs, and not skyrocketing growth in the city. Of course these processes may be inter-related, but are also influenced by a myriad of other factors
-Also, keep in mind that this trend is not broken down by age, marital status, presence of children in the home, or other factors that would effect school enrollment.

Interesting nonetheless, and thanks for posting this.

Anonymous said…
Incredible how Eric B just confirmed every perception of self absorption some of us perceive from a big section of North End SPS families.

According to him the big factors in SPS enrollment are that it is too inconvenient to drive solo in a car across the bridge...that two-parent families with one parent commuting to Microsoft on a shuttle want to live here...that parents can now just buy a house in a desirable school assignment area... and eureka! mortgages in Ballard aren't underwater.

I am cutting off my gag reflex.

Eric, try this reality.... multifamily housing by bus lines and a concentration of jobs (low-paying but at least nearby) and social services keep us here. That's it. It isn't the schools.

And we don't entertain the "choice" of "leaving for good schools" because it isn't a choice at all. We are held in place by our families and our cultural communities and our jobs. Not by underwater mortgages.

There will be more of our situation than of your reality in Seattle soon. Get ready for the Barbarians at your Golden Gates.


Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
Southie, are populations of people at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale as a percentage of the overall population in Seattle increasing faster than people in the middle and/or higher ends of the scale?

--- swk
Anonymous said…
I have been alarmed @ the capabilities and capacities that SPS downtown (not you Joe Wolf if you are reading) has for the strategic and timely handling of student population growth. It is one of the issues that drew me to being active in the district years ago.

I fear that the situation has not improved and may in fact be headed downhill. I don't say that with pleasure at criticizing JSCEE. I simply do not see the crossfunctional talent nor sheer number of bodies nor community funding needed to handle the continued population growth.

I have my thoughts on what it would take to get us out of this morass (incremental assistance is not going to make a dent), but I fear they would be rejected out of hand by JSCEE because it would mean upsetting applecart. Nevermind that the applecart is about to topple over anyhow.

My gloomy assessment on a Monday is compounded by my finally catching up on the Cascade PPP / NW Center issue last night. It was beyond alarming to see what a state Rep. was willing to be quoted on regarding SPS in The Stranger. Seattle politicians don't generally publicly burn bridges with "tough talk" at SPS, but Reuven Carlyle was unwavering in his takedown of the District.

First, I read with astonishment, that state Legislators have so little faith in SPS that THEY WITHDREW A $10 MILLION emergency capital funding plan from Olympia because they have no faith in district planning.

Then Carlyle gave Banda and his communications staff an F- in public engagement around capacity planning.

Then he said this "The district has unbelievable turnover, and the management of the demographics has been subpar."

If the message is that SPS cannot handle the Queen Anne situation, the conclusion that we're toast regarding high school capacity, let alone thousands of new students at lower grades, is not hard to draw. It's where I am anyhow, unfortunately.

Sorry for the long post, but this matter is exceptionally upsetting to me, and I know to many of the parents who read this blog.

Ed Voter, well said.

SPS leadership should be listening. It's almost to the point where either you have to wonder if there is just a lot of sheer stubbornness going on ("we know best") or if someone truly wants this district to look this inept for other reasons.
Eric B said…
Southie, if you'd prefer, I can make up a bunch of stuff about your neighborhood instead of just reporting what I see in my neighborhood. Would that be better?

The original demographer's report said that the main reason Seattle's school population was increasing was that families that would otherwise move to the suburbs are staying in Seattle. He hypothesized that was due to people being held in place by underwater mortgages. I gave a lot of other reasons why people with the means to move might decide not to.

The factors you cite also indicate why the school population issue hasn't been as much of a crisis in South Seattle as in wealthier places--the overall population is much more stable. When we moved into Ballard 15 years ago, there were fewer than 5 families on the block with school-age children. Now there are closer to 20. Part of that is turnover from the aging population that bought immediately postwar, but part of it is changing opinions about living in the city.

Like it or not, the big changes in enrollment are coming from the places where people have a freer choice of where to live and where to send their kids to school because they have more money or fewer cultural ties to a specific place. I'm not saying it's good, just that it's real.
Anonymous said…
Does anyone know if SPS has hired a demographer yet?

-Downtown Dad
Anonymous said…
"Part of that is turnover from the aging population that bought immediately postwar, but part of it is changing opinions about living in the city. "

We're seeing this too, also in our NE neighborhoods. Part of the turnover was slowed by the decrease in prices after 2006 and the collapse in 2008 of the housing market, but I'm thinking that the turnover of the post-war houses will be replaced by people with young families (and not, say, retirees or young people without kids).

kellie said…
I can confirm that Eric B was addressing the official SPS report that claimed that enrollment growth might be temporary and that SPS should expect that the typical urban pattern of family out-migration to the suburbs could resume when the economy improved.

I never believed that report for one second as that report failed to address any of the issues related to the City of Seattle and the urban plan for substantial density with an strong emphasis on affordable family housing as well as the dramatic shift in gas prices from $2/gallon to almost $4/gallon. There is a strong correlation between affordable family housing, public school participation and public transit requirements.

It seems that Seattle did a great job with its plan to build high density housing but the next steps of providing the services that people who will live in that housing will want and need was just missing.

Every year, there is more and more evidence that the enrollment growth for Seattle Schools is real and persistent state and not a bubble or a transient phenomenon that will change with the economy. However, every year that it takes the policy makers to acknowledge this, make the problem more complicated to solve.

IMHO, the issue with the NWC and CPP is just the beginning of substantially more serious capacity issues. The BEX levy was just barely enough money to accommodate the growth that had already happened in Seattle prior to 2012. It was most certainly not nearly enough to cover the next six years of growth.

Something has to give. If there isn't a plan to support more rapid growth then the natural result will be schools in shifts. Shifted schedules happened during the baby boom in Seattle and shifts often happens on a temporary basis (1-2 years) in districts when there are using shifts as their interim plan during construction.

Anonymous said…
I heard that real estate agents were recommending Seattle for clients moving here during the summer. Because of more certainty in school assignments, their clients felt more secure about looking in the city. I have a friend who relocates people for Amgen and they like the city neighborhoods.

I bet these younger workers will stay in the city and not move to the suburbs. They are not in love with commuting for the sake of a bigger yard.

S parent
Anonymous said…
Gee Eric, no capacity crisis in places other than Ballard and the pearlescent NE?

I'll pass that one by my neighbors and friends in Central, West and South Seattle. Not sure whether they'll be ROFL or looking to kick something.

It's clear that you and the Good People of Capacity Crises in the NE need to take a field trip out of your comfort zone.

And swk: If you think it's only people "on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale" who can't buy a house at will in a "good" school zone, you need your own fieldtrip to an urban planner who can talk to you about the dangers of Seattle becoming a city without a middle class.

I've always assumed this blog skews North End Volvo Liberal. You all are the proof in my pudding.

Anonymous said…
Wow, Southie, you made a pretty big intellectual leap there with my question. I asked a yes or no question and you applied an assumption or intent to my question. If you re-read my previous post, you will see nothing related to housing, affordability, etc. nor an assumption regarding your status.

So, do you have a simple yes or no to my question?

--- swk
Anonymous said…
In my part of town (Lake City) there are definitely more young couples and families moving in, both purchasing and renting homes, as well as a huge increase in multi-family construction, including low-income family housing.

I wish the article broke the growth down as far as singles, families, etc... but from what I can see, there is a dramatic increase in families with young children in our neighborhood, and it is much more like a wave than a bubble.

- North-end Mom
Anonymous said…
Oh, and one other thing: We're no longer the North End Volvo Liberals. We're now the North End Subaru Liberals. We can no longer afford XC 70s, so we've downgraded to Outbacks. ;-)

--- swk
Eric B said…
Southie, there isn't a capacity crisis (yet) in most of Seattle. Yes, schools are full, and yes, we're building in some areas, but most of the city has space to build, again for the moment. South Seattle's capacity needs were largely taken care of in the BEX III levy, with a couple of projects in the BEX IV. West Seattle is re-opening schools or building new on SPS sites. Likewise in Ballard and Queen Anne.

The NE, on the other hand, is out of space. There are no more schools to open, and the children keep showing up. There are no more sites. In a few years, it may look rational to start pulling leases on SPS-owned office buildings to make room for the population growth. That's where the crisis is.

If I'm wrong, and there's a student population crisis in South Seattle, please tell us where. Otherwise, back off on the ad hominem attacks.

PS I'm a North End Dodge liberal.
TechyMom said…
I live in Central, and in the 14 years I've lived on my block it has both gentrified and filled with kids. The people who are moving in are young, affluent and have school-aged kids. The people they are buying out are elderly and lower-middle-class. The new people mostly work at UW and in tech (eastside, downtown, or telecommuting). The people leaving were mostly retired. The demographic trend of people moving to Seattle for highly paid jobs is real. That doesn't mean that the continuation of people with deep community ties staying here is any less real.

There is also a national trend towards raising kids in cities instead of suburbs. The underwater mortgage thing was never the issue, imho. The demographer just didn't understand/believe in this trend. Combine these two things, and you get growth in the school age population.

Will it be permanent? Probably not. The move to the suburbs wasn't permanent either, it seems to be ending after about 70 years. However, we're going to need a lot more schools in the city for a good long time.
Southie, I'm sorry you feel that way. I don't drive a Volvo. Eric was likely speaking from his experience and it's always good to hear from people around the district.

Help to know about what you are seeing in your neighborhood.
kellie said…
@ Southie,

I have worked on capacity issues for ten years now and I have worked on issues in every corner of the city. There are challenges everywhere for SPS. I often say that SPS has plenty of problems so they don't need to make any extra.

That said, capacity issues are the intersection of building inventory and student growth. To have a capacity crisis, you have to have problems with both.

West Seattle has significant growth and their capacity problem was mostly artificial because of closing schools that never should have been closed. Re-opening schools has really helped and re-opening recently closed schools is a pretty straightforward answer.

The NE is a different story. The schools that were closed in the NE were also sold so there is no real way to re-open these schools. The NE has a challenge where the schools are stuffed to the gills, the population is still growing as there is significant NEW high density family housing that is being added and there is no easy answers. Most of the schools have already been portabled to death.

The issue in Central is that schools were closed that never should have been closed. It is an artificial capacity issue. TT Minor should never have been closed.

The Southend also has its history of closure issues. Van Assalt should never have been closed / moved. But re-opening Van Assalt is an option and would solve any capacity issues in the South end.

The NW has a little bit of capacity simply because they haven't had every square inch covered in portables. (not that this is a good plan, it isn't). But there is some real issues brewing in the NW.
Anonymous said…
"West Seattle has significant growth and their capacity problem was mostly artificial because of closing schools that never should have been closed. Re-opening schools has really helped and re-opening recently closed schools is a pretty straightforward answer."

West Seattle also has limited growth potential as Denny MS is now on the Sealth campus. Remember that fiasco?

Well Westie, and didn't we all call that one on Denny/Sealth? But no.
Benjamin Leis said…
@Demographer - One thing to take into account is that the relative percentages in the graph are not over the same time period.

So if we grew ~23000 people / 2 years and we extended out that would be ~115000 / 10 years and work out to something like a 18% decade growth rate. That would be an increase over the last decade's growth rate for the city.

Yes most of the story is the decline of the growth in the suburbs. However, even that data is a bit suspect. The census essentially rejiggered how it distributes estimated growth over a county for the last two years. The juries out how accurate their new methodology really is until 2020.


kellie said…
@ Westie, I hear you. I am deeply concerned that making Boren a K8 is only going to repeat the drama and trauma that happened in the NE in West Seattle.

The board had an idea that they could manage capacity with a K8 because they could change their minds later. But later families were deeply invested into the K8 so it was no easy matter on anyone to restore the building as a middle school.

The Denny Sealth issue is another "artificial" capacity issue that should never have happened. Because the two buildings share a campus both of their programs are artificially constrained. It also puts way too much pressure to make crazy boundaries to divide West Seattle in half.

But again, it is an "artificial" capacity issue. If Denny was still at Denny, then there wouldn't be a capacity issue.
Anonymous said…
Fortunately, Kellie, SPS still owns the land the old Denny stood upon, across the street and half a block up. But, seeing what it took to get something built on the old Genessee Elementary site, I don't expect I'll be living to see Denny 3.0.

Anonymous said…
Seattle will continue to grow, and the suburbs will continue their decline, except for the high end neighborhoods like the Ridge, and some pockets here and there along Lake WA & Puget Sound. Otherwise, all the reasons given above are what compelled us to stay and raise kids in the city, versus moving to suburbs like those we grew up in, which are now traffic-choked, mall-cultured has beens and hellholes. Cities will be "it" for the next 20 to 50 years. There's only so much room between Puget Sound and the Cascades. Bank on it.

Joe Wolf said…
Great post and conversation. (EdVoter - thank you for the vote of confidence. Seriously, that's very cool.)

For the record I'm speaking here not as the offficial SPS voice on this topic, but with many years of experience (demograpgher, planner, planning director) at San Diego Unified.

The central portion of San Diego - from downtown north to I-8 and east to, say the San Diego State campus -has a lot in common relative to development patterns both old and new.

Up to the present neither district has seen much student generation out of market-rate, multi-family housing. (I would bold and undeline "market-rate" if I could here.) I think, though that there is a possibility that the Millenials *may* have a much different take on raising families in apartments and condos that us Gen-Xers, and the Boomers before us. Remember "may" wheb reading the next paragraph.

To the best of my knowledge there is little to no objective research/data on the above. I will look when I have some time, and I've asked my peer at SDUSD if he has seen anything. To be blunt objective data showing an upswing in families choosing to live in market-rate apartments and condos is what is needed for us as staff to ethically give the Board advice and direction on asking the public for hundreds of millions of dollars. Not anecdotes; not agenda-driveh "studies". If any of you know of or find something please let me & Tracy know.
Anonymous said…
@Joe Wolf

Thanks for your thoughts!

Does this mean that you (and Tracy, etc...) are already taking into account the impact of multi-unit buildings with 2+ bedrooms per unit that are targeted for low/very-low income families (below market rate)? If so, how do you obtain this data?

BTW, I have friends who are single moms living in a market-rate NE Seattle apartments, with kids in SPS. They do exist.

- North-end Mom
Anonymous said…
See, I knew Joe would read this post. :-) I should have put Tracy Libros in my exemption, too. My bad. She has carried the planning weight of this district on her shoulders, with precious little technological support, for far longer than anyone has a right to expect.

That said, 2 employees do not a strategic District make, so I'm sorry to say my worries and doubts remain uppermost in my mind.

TechyMom said…
Joe, what about an uptick in people raising kids in single family housing within city limits? Seattle has a lot of neighborhoods that are pretty suburban, with smallish 3br houses on SF5000 lots.
Anonymous said…
@Joe Wolf
I have a few questions about your post.
1)How does the district know” it hasn’t seen much student generation out of market rate multi-family housing” if “to the best of your knowledge there is little to no objective research data?”
2)Why does it matter if a unit is market rate? It seems like income restricted units would generate more SPS students than Market Rate units due to fewer children being sent to private schools?

I appreciate your willingness to participate in the conversation. I doubt it’s required in your job description, but it means a lot.

Apartment Dweller
Anonymous said…
We are a family of 4 living in a 100 year old condo in QA. Our elderly neighbor reports few families have ever lived in our building prior to our move, 4 years ago. Now there are 6 families with school age children in the building. We intentionally bought a small space in an affluent part of the city. It is affordable, easy to maintain and close to everything. You couldn't pay us to move to the burbs.

Our elderly neighbors also reports "There were few small children in QA 20 years ago, and now triplets are growing on trees!"

Overcrowding Coe
Anonymous said…
Hi Joe, thanks for jumping in here and sharing your thoughts:

"To the best of my knowledge there is little to no objective research/data on the above. I will look when I have some time, and I've asked my peer at SDUSD if he has seen anything. To be blunt objective data showing an upswing in families choosing to live in market-rate apartments and condos is what is needed for us as staff to ethically give the Board advice and direction on asking the public for hundreds of millions of dollars. Not anecdotes; not agenda-driveh "studies". If any of you know of or find something please let me & Tracy know. "

Out of curiosity, does California (or any other state for that matter) have something like Washington's growth management act? I think it is possible that Seattle is in a unique situation in the US in that in the 1980's the state passed a law that restricted urban sprawl. While other cities keep spreading and spreading out, there is a hard stop to our growth boundary, and Seattle is densify-ing rapidly.

At the same time, Seattle has been pushing urban densification and the walkable neighborhood idea for the past 20 years too.

Ask any long time Seattleite, and the dramatic changes and increased housing in many of our neighborhood is astounding. For that matter, ask anyone who's lived her for the past 10 years. It is crazy how much more densely packed we are becoming, and families have to live somewhere.

I think we might be in a unique situation here, and waiting for someone to study us and write a paper in 20 years about how Seattle's population was exploding and the City and school district didn't plan for enough schools because they didn't realize there was a problem until it is too late, might not be the best strategy.

I wonder if it might be a good idea to do some investigation into the reality of this demographic trend. We've certainly got the anecdotes of more families living in multi-family housing, and City policies that are promoting urban livability, and the baby boomers' babies are now having babies and put it all together and whamo-- we are in a school capacity crisis.

I've heard that King County has some great demographers on staff. I wonder if it might be a good idea for SPS to spend some time investigating this a little further. Maybe do some reality checks in some key neighborhoods that have exploded the density in recent years: Lake City, Wallingford/Greenlake, Ballard, Queen Anne/Interbay are a couple that come to my mind.

Just because no one has studied it before, doesn't make it not a reality.

--Random thought

Joe Wolf said…
Hello all - have not forgotten about follow-up on your questions here. Was at Olympic Hills last night for their BEX IV community meeting; then prepping for today's FACMAC meeting. I will try to get to these this afternoon schedule permitting.
Anonymous said…
Joe Wolf - Thank you again for participating here! You are a breath of fresh air.

I will echo what previous posters have said - I want to do so gently, so as not to scare you away. But I am unclear as to what data you ARE using to make determinations of future demographic changes. And with all due respect, you seem to be a little "head in the sand" about some of the growth. Don't dismiss everything "anecdotal" - maybe it needs more investigation! What you've always done in the past may not work anymore. You might have to open your eyes to some clear realities that don't have tons of established data patterns. Maybe approach it from a different angle - if you know one area that is experiencing tremendous growth (downtown, SLU, I think we can all agree) you might have to do some real work in estimating. Historical data will be of no use - this is a new phase of city development that has never happened before, due to a few key employers. (Amazon, MS, etc). Just ignoring it because it's new doesn't make it not happen. I would call the local hospitals for birth rate trends, Amazon for new hire figures and demographics, and do a literal drive by to figure out who is building and how many units. A "back of the envelope" analysis is better than ignoring plain growth that we all can see. It will be too late for my kids, but I worry about the babies being born now that will need a kindergarten in 5 years.
-just sayin

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