WENATCHEE — Rising rents and falling vacancy rates in NCW have put a strain on the area’s housing market, especially for people with low incomes. One in five renters in Chelan and Douglas counties now spends at least 50% of their income on rent, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
The average one-bedroom apartment in the two counties now costs $1,150 per month and only 1.97% are vacant, according to University of Washington Runstad Department of Real Estate data. That’s the highest average rent outside the Puget Sound area.
That vacancy rate — in addition to 10-year highs in population growth — puts the area’s housing market in a tough position, said Patrick Jones, executive director of the Eastern Washington University’s Institute for Public Policy and Economic Analysis.
“If your vacancy rate is somewhere in the area of 1.5% to 2.4%, that’s a very tight market where supply is not catching up with demand,” he said. “I think it’s safe to say that characterizes the availability of units in the greater Wenatchee area.”
The institute runs Chelan-Douglas Trends, a website that analyzes data in the two counties, including in the fields of housing, transportation, education and demographics.
After following the area’s housing market for several years, Jones has seen the market downturn for renters, he said.
“I wasn’t two or three years ago, but I’m becoming more convinced that relatively speaking — everything is relative to the state or relative to the U.S. averages — the greater Wenatchee area is facing some crunch for apartment dwellers,” he said.
The rental market is more expensive in the two counties now compared to the past few years, but the area has been faring well when compared to the state and the country, according to the trend data.
“Surprisingly, the share of the population in the two counties that faces this dilemma — according to Census — has been lower than the state and lower than the U.S.,” Jones said.
From 2015 to 2017, around 12% of renters in Chelan and Douglas counties spent more than half of their income on rent, according to the census data. Across the state and country, the percentage bounced between 21% and 24% in those years.
Then in 2018, the two counties’ figure jumped to 19%, bringing it into the ballpark of Washington and the U.S. The share of renters who pay more than a third of their income on housing also increased that year, from 30.7% to 33.5%, according to the data.
But it’s too soon to determine whether that was an isolated increase or the start of an upward trend, Jones said.
“For me, year-to-year change is probably not going to be statistically significant. If it continues though … then perhaps we’re seeing the start of a trend that starts in ‘18 that continues to ‘19, where rents are climbing pretty fast for this population,” he said. “Then very soon we might see Wenatchee no different off than the United States and the state of Washington for those very-low-income people.”
Rent as a percentage of income is a metric that’s often used to determine the health of a housing market, Jones said.
It’s determined by analyzing housing costs, income and population, so each of those factors affects the final percentage, Jones said. And all three variables are rising in the area.
In the last 10 years, the two counties’ median household income has increased 24%, from $49,755 in 2009 to $61,714 in 2018, according to census data. The state’s grew 31% and the country grew 23%.
But the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment increased 97%, from $580 to $1,143 in that timeframe, according to Runstad data.
In that same period, total population here has grown 8.8%, from 110,221 to 119,920, according to the data.
“Those are big numbers in the world of population growth,” Jones said.
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