'Pending traffic nightmare' sparks steep drop in West Seattle rent hikes

    West Seattle neighborhood (KOMO News file photo)

    SEATTLE - The impending shutdown of the Alaskan Way Viaduct is having at least one unforeseen consequence - a dramatic drop in rental price hikes in West Seattle.

    Rental marketplace website HotPads reports that rent increases in West Seattle have dropped from an average 10.2 percent in September 2017 to 1.7 percent today.

    Rent increases have dropped elsewhere in the Seattle metro area as well, but a big reason why they have fallen so far and so fast in West Seattle may be the viaduct closure, says Joshua Clark, economist at HotPads.

    About 90,000 drivers currently use the viaduct each day, which is the main link between West Seattle and the rest of the city. But during the impending closure, which starts Friday at 10 p.m., all those motorists will be forced to use other routes or find other options.

    "The pending traffic nightmare may have played a role when renters decided whether to stay (in West Seattle) or to move as their lease ended," Clark says.

    Prices aren't the only way the rental market has been impacted by the impending shutdown, he says. West Seattle has also experienced a change in how homes there are being advertised.

    The West Seattle Water Taxi, which shuttles residents downtown, is being mentioned increasingly in rental listings ahead of the closure. From late 2014 to 2016 the ferrying service was mentioned in about 3 percent of listings; in the past year, it’s been mentioned in 10 percent of listings.

    But Clark says it is important not to overstate the impact the viaduct closure will have in the long run, and for renters specifically.

    First off, the viaduct will be replaced by the new Seattle tunnel in early February, which will ease the traffic disruption even though it will eventually charge a toll.

    And even during the three-week closure, increased water taxi capacity will also help mitigate traffic trouble for a lot of people in its vicinity. King County Metro also plans to increase bus service for those too far to walk or bike to the water taxi.

    Clark says it is also unrealistic to pin all the blame for lower rent hikes on the closure.

    "Booms and busts rarely last forever and it is not at all unusual to see a neighborhood with rapid price gains revert to city or metro averages as markets equilibrate," he says.

    He expects demand to pick back up as people who would have otherwise stayed in or moved to the area see their current leases expire and the opportunity for a normal commute opens up.

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