Viadoom: West Seattle Rental Market Has Changed Ahead of the Viaduct Closure

The Alaskan Way Viaduct is Seattle’s most recognizable stretch of highway, curling along the waterfront between Elliott Bay and downtown. Damaged in the Nisqually earthquake nearly 18 years ago, it’s being decommissioned in January and eventually torn down, as Highway 99 is re-routed into a tunnel beneath downtown.

For three weeks while the transition is made, neither the viaduct nor the tunnel will be available to the 90,000 drivers who navigate that stretch each day. Seattle officials are calling those weeks – starting this Friday, Jan. 11 – the “period of maximum constraint.” Locals have taken to calling it “Viadoom.”

The viaduct is the main connection between West Seattle – across Elliott Bay from downtown – and most of the rest of the city. But if you think motorists are the only ones feeling the pinch from it’s closure, think again. Renters and landlords, too, have been impacted.

In September 2017, the difference in rent appreciation between West Seattle and the rest of the city was at a peak – rents in West Seattle were up 10.2 percent compared to 7.2 percent for the rest of the city. Since then, rent appreciation has slowed and currently stands at 1.7 percent for both areas. The timing of this slow down makes sense in the context of rentals – the peak occurred about a year ahead of the shutdown, the length of a typical lease, and at a time of the year when markets typically slow. The pending traffic nightmare may have played a role when renters decided whether to stay or to move as their lease ended.

Prices are not the only way the rental market has been impacted by the impending shutdown. The city has also witnessed a change in how homes in West Seattle are being advertised. The West Seattle Water Taxi, which shuttles residents downtown, has been mentioned increasingly in rental listings ahead of the closure – from late 2014 to 2016 the ferrying service was mentioned in about 3 percent of listings; in the past year, it’s been mentioned in 10 percent of listings.

Drivers who have historically relied on the viaduct will be forced to search for alternate routes for the weeks it will take to realign Highway 99 to lead into the new tunnel. The stress that will put on an already tenuous Seattle traffic situation will be significant, but it is important not to overstate the impact it will have in the long run, and for renters specifically.

First off, as dreadful as those three weeks of longer commutes sound, it’s only temporary. Increased water taxi capacity will also help mitigate traffic trouble for a lot of people in its vicinity, and the city plans to increase bus service for those too far to walk or bike to the taxi (bikers pay no extra fees).

It is also unrealistic to pin all the blame for lower rent appreciation on the closure. Booms and busts rarely last forever and it is not at all unusual to see a neighborhood with rapid price gains revert to city or metro averages as markets equilibrate. That being said, discussion of Viadoom has hung over the city like gray skies in winter and just the idea of an impending traffic disaster might have made traffic-weary residents think twice of moving to West Seattle.

If people were sincerely avoiding the move to West Seattle because of the forthcoming closure, expect demand to pick up as people who would have otherwise stayed in or moved to the area see their current leases expire and the opportunity for a normal commute open up.