Olympia survey: Renters have challenging experiences during the pandemic


Olympia tenants went through the most challenges during the pandemic, according to an online survey conducted by the city for the Strong Olympia program.

At the Finance Committee meeting on Wednesday, September 21, Strategic Projects manager Amy Buckler gave an update to committee members on Olympia Strong. This public process aims to identify a long-term strategy for how the city can best support the economic resiliency of residents, businesses, and the broader community and their organization.

The program is now in the second phase of the process. On July 15 through August 16, the city hosted an online survey through Engage Olympia.

"This was not a statistically valid survey," Buckler announced. "But we have approximately 500 respondents for some pretty good sampling for something like this."

She added that public engagements would continue through November, including listening sessions, community groups, and advisory board meetings.

Different reality

According to Buckler, 72% of the respondents are homeowners, and 24% are renters. About 25% who participated in the online survey claimed they have a physical or mental disability, and 32% have children under 18 at home.

In the survey, Buckler said they saw the different realities that renters were experiencing.

She said 96% of renter-respondents had difficulty buying food/groceries in the past year, while only 9% of homeowner-respondent have the same challenge.

In a graph on the survey presented to the committee, Buckler showed that:

  • 41% of renters lost jobs or business; 10% of homeowners experienced the same thing
  • 74% of the renter and only 20% of homeowners lost income or hours
  • 38% of renters had been late on paying rent, and only 2% of homeowners had been late on paying their mortgage
  • 78% of renters said they found it difficult to make rent
  • 52% of renters said they had been late on a utility payment, while only 5% of homeowners experienced the same situation
  • 39% of renters and only 7% of homeowners owed medical bills beyond their means
  • 35% of renters said they moved in with their family or friends, and only 2% of homeowners moved in with their family or friends
  • 3% of renters were evicted; no homeowner was evicted from their home
  • 8% of renters became homeless, and no homeowner became homeless

"We all know that certain industries were impacted by the pandemic, even coming out of the pandemic. This makes sense because some of the most vulnerable jobs were lower-wage service jobs or in the arts and recreation sector, and these are workers that are more likely to be renters," Buckler explained.

In case of another economic downturn, only 9% of renters said they could meet their expenses if they became unemployed for at least a year. About 41% of homeowners said the same thing.

Bucker said it is important for them to understand the stark difference in experience between homeowners and tenants, noting that 53% of Olympians are renters.

"[But] they are not as readily engaged in the city decision making, and we saw that in this Engage Olympia survey  - that we have more homeowners that respond overall," she said, adding, "renters are affected differently than homeowners by city decision."

According to Buckler, they are interested in holding specific sessions with renters to test and build ideas for Olympia Strong.

The respondents in the survey considered affordable housing should be the city's top goal.

Buckler said Olympia Strong sees the housing situation as a significant economic issue.

Working together on the housing issue

She said Olympia's Housing Program and the Community Planning and Development are leading actions around the housing situation.

The Economic Development department, she added, has been working with real estate development.

The Habitat for Humanity project plans to develop over 100 units of permanent and affordable homes on Boulevard Road.

"The Economic Development department should continue to play a strong role in housing for the foreseeable future," Buckler said.


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  • BobJacobs

    The staff has finally admitted that these surveys, in which the respondents are self-selected, are not statistically valid. Then they go ahead and treat them as if they represented the whole population -- see the wording in this article. This is dishonest.

    Undoubtedly, renters on the whole fare more poorly than owners, but how much more? We don't know. We Don't know. We don't know. Will staff ever come clean with their statistics?

    Bob Jacobs


    Bob Jacobs

    Friday, September 23, 2022 Report this

  • AugieH

    My wife and I live in Lacey, but have one single-family rental in West Olympia. Through the entire duration of the pandemic, our tenants have paid ALL utility bills and monthly rents on time. I guess if the city were to just survey them, then 100% of renters would be considered to have coped. This isn't meant to imply that many renters don't have difficulties meeting financial obligations, only that survey results can be given a spin to support whatever restrictions the City Council votes to place on landlords on their management of their properties, e.g., caps on move-in fees and the lengths of notices given to renters for increases in rent based on the amount of the increase. Olympia is turning into another Seattle.

    Friday, September 23, 2022 Report this

  • Southsoundguy

    Government control of real estate is a racket.

    Friday, September 23, 2022 Report this

  • psterry

    Meaningless survey contributes nothing to general knowledge.

    Friday, September 23, 2022 Report this

  • C K

    Truly, IF voters would STOP voting in corrupt, power-hungry politicians, who continue to raise taxes, and dreaming up more ways to tax us all into poverty, while thinking we work for them, things would be so much better for us all. Just stop agreeing to pay more extortion money.

    Friday, September 23, 2022 Report this

  • JW

    How about the owners such as the owner of former councilmember Renata Rollins' rental which she deliberately and criminally stopped paying rent for in some sort of protest?

    Saturday, September 24, 2022 Report this