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Seattle Leads the Way in Green-Certified Apartments but Additional Costs Create Setbacks for Renters

By Brittan Jenkins

Green-certified apartments are on the rise all across the United States, and Seattle is helping pave the way for other cities as the second most-green-friendly apartment city in the U.S., but renters aren’t willing to pay the price tag that comes with more sustainable living.

The desire for more green-friendly housing is up across the country as renters look for eco-friendly alternatives and developers seek incentives for LEED-certified buildings.

RENTCafé, a property marketing software, took a closer look at commercial real estate data from Yardi Matrix in a November 2016 study and survey to analyze green housing on a national and city level. Through their analysis, researchers found that in 2015, 44,800 new LEED-certified green units opened in large-scale developments — 50 units or more—across the country. That’s 13 times more than there were in 2008. Impressively, Seattle has the second-most green-certified apartments at 11,200, only beaten by Chicago with 13,800 green apartments. Portland and San Francisco also rank in the top 10 for green-certified apartments at 8,000 and 5,200, respectively.

Seattle also leads the nation in the number of green multifamily buildings. Seattle’s 11,200 green units on the market right now are spread across 87 residential buildings, which sets the record for the city with the largest number of green multifamily buildings in any U.S. city, according to the study. Even more, nearly 27 percent of buildings built in 2009 in the large-scale multifamily segment in Seattle is green.

When factoring in the total number of green apartments in relation to the total population, Seattle came in second with one green rental for every 61 people. Cambridge, MA beat out Seattle for the first place spot at a ratio of one to 39. Redmond, WA was also among the top four cities with green rentals with one per 77 people. Portland’s ratio came in at one to 79.

Interestingly, the study states Yardi Matrix data show green-certified apartments cost on average an additional $560 per month, or 33 percent more than new non-green apartments. They are also tend to be smaller, at a rate of about 73 fewer square feet on average than regular new apartments. Even more, new non-green apartment units built in 2009 or later average 955-square-feet and cost about $1,700 per month in rent. Green units built in the same time period average 882-square-feet and cost $2,260.

In a survey of 2,631 renters, 69 percent stated they are interested in living in an energy-efficient or green building, but their willingness to pay extra for those green units does not match their enthusiasm for energy efficiency. The survey also showed the most popular features of green units are energy-saving appliances and thermostats, water-saving plumbing and eco-friendly transportation options. But the majority (52 percent) of those who expressed interest in green units are willing to pay no more than an additional $100 per month, compared to the rent premium of $560.

The study highlights a LEED Silver-certified apartment in downtown Seattle as being built with eco-conscious residents in mind. Union SLU is a 284-apartment complex which opened in 2013. The study states the community offers “plenty of sustainable living features such as electric car charging stations, priority parking for energy-efficient or electric cars, bike storage, bike racks, walkable location, resident gardening p-patches and energy-efficient appliances.” The study adds rates start in the $1,500’s for studios and up to the $5,600’s for two-bedroom apartments.