• Housing Affordability

    Bellevue is a metropolitan center and the largest employment center on the Eastside. Bellevue is seeing unprecedented growth that is likely to continue as the nationwide trend toward urban living continues. This has resulted in a substantive increase in median home values and rentals here.

    To address community concerns about the issue, invite feedback and report on the progress of its affordable housing strategy, the city hosted a virtual neighborhood forum concerning affordable housing on Sept. 23, 2021 (presentation slides, video).

    To sustain Bellevue's livability and economic vitality, the city is working on multiple fronts to maintain and improve housing affordability here. Through its plans and policies, the city pursues opportunities to:

    • Preserve neighborhood quality
    • Expand the overall housing supply
    • Maintain and increase affordable housing
    • Attend to the special housing needs of individuals
    • Prevent discrimination in housing
    • Promote walkable, sustainable neighborhoods.

    Bellevue's Comprehensive Plan sets the vision for how the city develops and grows over the next 20 to 30 years. As the city's supply of developable land diminishes, the city must explore creative methods to increase housing opportunities while protecting existing neighborhoods and the environment. The plan's Housing Element supports innovative methods to achieve housing goals, while maintaining flexibility to fulfill different priorities in different neighborhoods.

    What is "Housing Affordability?"

    A healthy city includes housing at a variety of affordability levels to appeal to residents at a range of income levels, ideally matching the salary ranges and household types of those who work in the area as well as retirees, students, and others with connections to the area. Housing affordability is a general term used to describe this range of housing and how affordable it is to the range of people interested in living there. The balance between the supply of housing (how many housing units there are in each type of housing that may be desirable) and demand (how many households want to live in that type of housing) is the biggest factor in defining the affordability of a city's housing market. Other factors, such as programs for affordable housing, generally impact the available supply of housing to try to better match the demand.

    What is "Affordable Housing" and how do we measure it?

    When housing is referred to as being "affordable," generally this means that it is able to be rented or owned by households at income levels lower than average. This could be due to natural market pressures (often housing may be naturally occurring affordable housing, or "NOAH," that is available at a lower rate due to its age, size, location, or other factors) but it also often references housing that is regulated. This regulated or rent-capped affordable housing generally is defined in contractual agreements that require the units to be rented or sold only to households of certain income thresholds. This could be provided by a non-profit affordable housing developer or by a market-rate developer as part of an incentive program.

    The income thresholds that allow a household to qualify for regulated affordable housing are known as percentages of the area median income, or "AMI." Within the City of Bellevue, housing that is available at 80% AMI or lower tends to be classified as affordable. This means that households that earn less than 80% of the area's average household income would qualify for an 80% AMI unit. Deeper affordability thresholds, such as 50% AMI and 30% AMI, are used to set housing aside for even lower income households. Each year, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines what the area median income is for each metro area. The City of Bellevue's is calculated including the Seattle-Bellevue metro area. Some years this number stays stable or moves down, but on average the AMI for our region has historically increased by around 3% each year. 

    A chart of annual full time salary wages in Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Metro Area in 2021.   

    Regulated affordable housing in the United States is generally reserved for households at or below a specific area median income (AMI) level. Depending on the size of your household and your households combined income, you may qualify for regulated affordable housing. Below you will find a chart that identifies the maximum income by household size that allows that household to qualify for various AMI levels.

    2021 Income Qualifications

    Household Size 45% AMI 55% AMI 65% AMI 70% AMI 80% AMI
    1 person  $  36,446  $     44,545  $  52,644  $  56,693  $  64,792
    2 persons  $  41,652  $     50,908  $  60,164  $  64,792  $  74,048
    3 persons  $  46,859  $     57,272  $  67,685  $  72,891  $  83,304
    4 persons  $  52,065  $     63,635  $  75,205  $  80,990  $  92,560
    5 persons  $  56,230  $     68,726  $  81,221  $  87,469  $  99,965

    Housing Affordability Glossary

    The Housing Affordability Glossary provides access a list of definitions that may be referenced throughout this series of pages.

    What is the regional approach to housing affordability?

    In the central Puget Sound region, where the housing market is becoming increasingly unaffordable, many residents experience housing instability daily, facing an unprecedented challenge in finding and keeping a home that they can afford. Meeting the housing needs of all households at a range of income levels is integral to promoting health and well-being and creating a region that is livable for all residents, economically prosperous, and environmentally sustainable. Housing access and affordability continues to be a major challenge for the region, and limits the region in achieving other mobility, equity, environmental, and economic goals.

    Jobs are not always located next to the buildings that house those employees. Economic pressures, family situation, zoning and density constraints, and other reasons often push housing further from job centers, making housing affordability a regional issue. Statewide planning requirements filter down to regional bodies that set requirements for counties and cities to follow. The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) leads the region's efforts and recently adopted VISION 2050, which is the regional growth strategy to accommodate a total of 5.8 million people by 2050 in King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish counties, while ensuring a robust and equitable economy, ongoing environmental protection, and an effective transportation system.

    The King County Countywide Planning Policies (CPPs) were updated in 2021 to incorporate policy direction in VISION 2050, establish new growth targets and policy guidance for 2024 Comprehensive Plans, address other policy and legislative changes that have materialized since 2012, and address policy recommendations from the Growth Management Planning Council’s (GMPC’s) Affordable Housing Committee. When the City updates its Comprehensive Plan by 2024, it will need to ensure the policies in the plan support and are consistent with the updated CPPs with sufficient development capacity (essentially zoned capacity) exists to accommodate the housing and employment growth targets established for Bellevue.

    On a countywide scale, the Regional Affordable Housing Task Force was created in 2017 to bring together representatives from King County, the City of Seattle and other cities with the goal of developing a regional plan to address the affordable housing crisis in King County. Findings from the taskforce conclude that a need for 244,000 additional, affordable homes in King County by 2040 so that no household earning 80 percent of Area Median Income and below is cost burdened. This includes 156,000 homes for households currently cost-burdened and an additional 88,000 homes for growth of low-income households between now and 2040.

    In addition to coordination through PSRC and King County, Bellevue has been taking action for many years to address affordable housing as an active participant in A Regional Coalition for Housing (ARCH). ARCH brings neighboring jurisdictions on the eastside together to preserve and increase the supply of affordable housing through a coordinated approach.

    Bellevue’s housing supply includes an estimated 53,231 occupied housing units and 4,139 vacant units. Only 25% of Bellevue’s housing stock is affordable to households with moderate incomes (earning up to $93,000 for a 4-person household) and only 9% is affordable to low and very low income households. This means that for the 10,500 low and very low income households (19% of households) there are only 4,800 affordable units. Bellevue is planning to undertake a new Housing Needs Assessment in 2021-2022 in order to update these numbers and gain a better understanding of the larger needs of the City.

    2017 Costburden Chart

    Looking at housing need by cost burden, between 2013 and 2017 (the most recent data available) almost one-third (30%) of Bellevue households were cost burdened, meaning they spent more than 30% of their income on housing.  This includes 14% of households that spent more than 50% of their income on housing (severely cost burdened).  For households whose income is below half of the area median income (AMI), 58% are severely cost burdened.  When low-income families spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, they are cost burdened and struggle to afford other basic necessities like food, transportation, health care, and childcare. Renters are more likely to suffer some sort of cost burden than owners.

    The highest percentage of cost-burdened households falls within the 31-50 percent AMI bracket, while the 50-80 percent AMI bracket holds the next largest percentage of cost-burdened households. Also, it is significant to note that within the 0-30% AMI which includes approximately 10% of total households in Bellevue, only 3% of existing units serve this income range. The largest number of units serving cost burdened households (15%) are within the 51-80% AMI which comprise of 9% of Bellevue’s total households. Therefore, it is evident that the 0-30% AMI is significantly underserved in Bellevue. It is also important to note that these findings are based on 2013-2017 data, and is not reflective of more current trends with the significant rise in housing prices since 2017 which has accentuated the housing affordability crisis.