Yes, rents in Tacoma might still look like a bargain compared with Seattle. But prices here continue to grow at a faster clip.
Consider this: In the past six months, the average apartment rent in Tacoma has increased by $142, or nearly 13 percent, according to data from the apartment search engine Rent Jungle. In Seattle, it’s gone up $92, or 4.5 percent. As of August, average apartment rent in Seattle was $2,154. In Tacoma, it was $1,246, according to the website’s latest data.
It’s not a new trend. Rents in Tacoma have grown nearly every month since early 2015, when the average price was just under $1,000, according to Rent Jungle. Other apartment data research groups, such as Axiometrics, have shown similar growth going back two years. One apartment listing website, Apartment List, reported Tacoma ranked behind only Colorado Springs, Colorado, for fastest-growing rents.
A big reason Tacoma’s rental prices are climbing is increased demand, said Sean Martin, a spokesman for the Rental Housing Association of Washington. As people are priced out of Seattle, they are looking for more affordable housing in places such as Tacoma, he said, quickly ratcheting up housing costs here.
“It’s been pretty consistent,” Martin said.
He expects the upward rental price trend to continue, as more people move to the region and supply remains tight. A second-quarter report from Apartment Insights, a Seattle research firm, said the Pierce County apartment vacancy rate was 3.34 percent.
Connie Brown, executive director of the Tacoma/Pierce County Affordable Housing Consortium, said another factor is rising home prices, which affects rents. As people can no longer afford to buy a home, they’re turning to rentals, further pushing up rent prices.
“I get calls every day, people looking for affordable housing,” Brown said. “I’ve been getting many calls from people that their rent has just increased, they can’t afford it, and they’ll have to be out by the end of month. They’ll be homeless until they can find something they can afford.”
So what can you expect at the cheapest and most expensive price points in Tacoma?
On the economical end, a recent search through Zillow shows that for $550 per month, you could get into a 230-square-foot studio apartment near St. Joseph Medical Center. It has an on-site laundry and the price includes utilities.
Tacoma’s average rent price of roughly $1,250 would get you a renovated 900-square-foot, two bedroom, one bathroom apartment on South 49th Street, according to Zillow. The listing showed a small deck and a carport, and tenant pays for electricity.
On the high end, $2,450 would get you into a 1,120-square-foot one bedroom, 1.5 bathroom condominium overlooking the water and a few steps from the Tacoma Yacht Club, according to its Zillow listing last week. The condo included vaulted ceilings, patio and some grass in the backyard. By Monday, the site showed it was no longer available.
The average one-bedroom apartment rent in Tacoma is $1,116, with two-bedroom units going for an average of $1,251 in August, according to Rent Jungle.
Tenant concerns over losing housing may be magnified in the Northwest, but rising rental prices are worrying people around the country. According to the NHP Foundation, an affordable housing nonprofit, the U.S. is losing approximately 125,000 affordable rental units per year. A recent nationwide survey of 1,000 Americans by NHP showed 75 percent were worried about losing housing, with 65 percent “cost-burdened,” or spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
Martin said renters should keep in mind that landlords — especially ones who own a small number of units — frequently are willing to be flexible on rent hikes in exchange for having a dependable, long-term tenant.
“Sometimes people resign themselves to, ‘Oh, I need to leave, I can’t afford the $100 increase,’ ” he said. But smaller property owners often “want to keep someone in a unit for a long time,” he said, and are willing to work with the tenant, including offering payment plans.