News

Federal Way is slowly shrinking

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

Recent reports that Federal Way is the fastest-shrinking city in the state might not be exactly accurate, but one thing is true: Many cities across the region, Federal Way included, are leaking people.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, Federal Way’s population from July 1, 2001 to July 1, 2002 dropped .7 percent, from 82,777 residents to 82,174.

But city officials say Federal Way’s population has never been listed as 82,777, nor was it ever 82,174.

Instead of Census numbers, the city uses state Office of Financial Management (OFM) data, which puts Federal Way’s 2001 population at 83,890 and its 2002 population at 83,850.

OFM is in charge of providing population estimates, monitoring economic changes and researching issues affecting the state budget and public policy, according to its Web site. The agency produces an annual report of population estimates.

According to OFM’s 2003 population estimate report released June 30, the state’s growth rate dropped from 1.5 percent a year in the late 1990s to .9 percent this year. According to state demographers, 56,600 people moved to Washington by April 1 this year, down from 66,800 last year and 80,800 in 2001.

OFM’s current population estimate for Federal Way is 83,500, which is the number city officials use as the official population of Federal Way.

While federal Census data indicates Federal Way shrank by .7 percent, state and local agencies put the shrinkage closer to .4 percent.

Hal Spencer, spokesman for OFM, said state and federal information numbers differ because Census information is older and OFM updates its information more frequently.

Patrick Doherty, the city’s director of community development, said it’s hard to say why Federal Way’s population decreased, particularly because the number of people who left was fairly small.

Job losses might account for some of the decrease, as people have left the state in search of work following layoffs at Capital One, Weyerhaeuser and Boeing, three major employers for Federal Way residents.

But lower interest rates and the opportunity to take a shot at the housing market might have coaxed some people out of an apartment in Federal Way and into a home somewhere else.

There’s little doubt historically that recent low interest rates encouraged a lot of Washington residents to buy houses. Federal Way saw a 23.7 percent increase in home sales between 2001 and 2002, from 844 to 1,044, and the median price during the same time increased 5.3 percent, according to Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

Condo sales increased 25 percent, from 208 in 2001 to 260 in 2002.

Tom Pierson, president of the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce, agreed the housing market might have been a driving force in the city’s loss of population. Most people who have been waiting to buy their first home “can’t afford a home in Federal Way,” he said.

He added traffic issues might have been another factor as people moved to live closer to work.

That Federal Way this year lost .4 percent of its population isn’t significant enough to raise city leaders’ eyebrows, but they will pay attention.

“We want to be mindful of the data,” Doherty said. “We need to understand the forces at work (in the market), and this is an indicator.”

Pierson speculated that projects in the city — including the redevelopment of SeaTac Mall currently underway, road improvements, the proposed new community center, the City Hall project and a proposed new transit center downtown — ultimately will encourage those who live here to stay and will lead to economic development.

“I’m convinced that with redevelopment and with traffic improvements,” Federal Way shouldn’t continue to lose people, Pierson said. “There should just be an influx.”

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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