Homeless in Seattle

Bill Conroy
13 min readMay 20, 2023

Zoning reform is seen as key to creating more affordable housing and addressing rampant homelessness in the Seattle area

Downtown Seattle, near the waterfront, one of the city’s tourist draws. Photo by Kenneth J. Gill CC BY-SA 4.0

The homeless have multiplied on the streets of this country over the past four decades, creating a near-dystopian urban landscape in parts of many cities — a scene marked by sprawling roadside encampments, abandoned hope and general human misery.

And in few other places in the United States is the homelessness crisis more pronounced than in Seattle.

The Seattle area’s homeless population ranks as the fourth largest in the nation behind New York City, Los Angeles and California’s Bay Area — all of which have much larger metro areas. The city and the larger Puget Sound region it is part of currently face a seemingly intractable homelessness crisis that is being further exacerbated by a daunting shortage of affordable housing.

Throwing more government and corporate funding at the problem is arguably very necessary, yet it is still the same level of thinking that has been with us for years. In essence, the city has been reshuffling the lifeboats on the deck, but by any measure, the ship continues to sink.

Earlier this year, however, reports published by a prominent nonprofit think tank as well as a coalition of Seattle area corporate leaders each zeroed in on zoning reform as an essential element of addressing the affordable-housing and related homelessness crisis in the Seattle area. The lack of affordable housing in the Seattle area has a direct relationship to the region’s homelessness crisis, local housing experts agree.

And, in a rare alignment of interests, especially in an often-factious Seattle, there appears to be a rising tide of consensus — including among some developers and community groups — that zoning reform may well be part of the solution.

Although there is no silver bullet that will put an end to the crisis overnight, one of those reports, by Challenge Seattle, a coalition of 21 CEOs representing the region’s top corporations, concludes: “The solution to the housing-affordability crisis starts with zoning.”

In fact, the CEO of Challenge Seattle, Chris Gregoire, who served as governor of Washington from 2005–2013, stressed that the problem cannot be solved absent zoning reform…

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Bill Conroy

Bill Conroy is an independent investigative journalist. For more information, check out billconroy.pressfolios.com.