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Study says rising rents tied to rising homeless population in Seattle

SEATTLE – The U.S Census Bureau says Seattle is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country.

You’ve probably felt the squeeze yourself in the form of quickly rising housing prices and rental rates in Western Washington.

A recent study by the online real estate database company Zillow even shows a direct connection between the rising homeless population and how much it costs to rent an apartment in Seattle.

Zillow’s study was put together with help from researchers at the University of Washington.

The study's researchers found Seattle is in the same boat as bigger cities like Washington, D.C.; New York; and Los Angeles when it comes to higher rents pushing people out of their homes and onto the streets.

And those who are living on the streets tell us once you get here, it’s even harder to climb back out.

“Rent, um, is pretty much really high,” said Clyde, a homeless man living near I-90. “I cannot afford to pay for it.”

The camp along I-90 popped up after other unsanctioned camps were closed by the city.

“Increasing your rent, your bills, it adds up,” said Clyde. “Some people can’t afford the rent they used to pay. There’s going to be a lot of people living on the street like me if they don’t do something about that.”

“It’s perhaps the tightest rental market in the country and that increase in demand makes it very difficult for supply to catch up,” said Zillow economist Aaron Terrazas.

Terrazas says his company’s study finds a direct relationship between rising rents and rising homeless population in Seattle – and an even more competitive home buyer’s market keeps rents out of reach for many.

“Inventory is down 30-40% over the year,” he said. “That really speaks to how much competition there is out there.”

The study found that for every 5 percent of a rent increase in Seattle, the result pushes more than 250 people out onto the streets.

And, until our region can expand its rental inventory, the study’s authors say, it will be harder to reduce the numbers of new people being pushed out of their homes.

“Unless the city makes a drastic effort to expand supply, hopefully keep rent increases in check, we’re going to see a lot more homelessness,” said Terrazas.

Zillow is also pledging $5 million to launch a program meant to address housing insecurity over the next five years.