For anyone who has lived in Sammamish over the last two decades, they have witnessed a city that has gotten significantly more diverse, and the recent 2020 Census showed the rapid growth of Asians within the city’s population.
But a deeper look at the numbers reveal the white population of Sammamish is in real decline, falling by 6,000 over the past decade.
There are many hypotheses as to why so many people who identify as white have moved out. Based on interviews by the Sammamish Independent, two common themes stood out, especially among retirees who have called it quits on Sammamish — rising cost of living and the loss of Sammamish’s community character.
Bruce Bench, 65, lived in Sammamish from 2000 to 2019. Bench decided to move to Florida after he retired as a record company executive, mainly for a location with better weather and a lower cost of living.
“High and higher-housing costs are insane,” said Bench, when asked about what drove him to leave.
Another Florida transplant, 68-year-old Cherie Gritsch, gave up on Sammamish after 33 years. She now lives in the renowned Florida retirement community of The Villages. Cost of living was a major factor for her too, as she complained that very few people can now afford a home in the Seattle area.
“The cost of living in Sammamish is outrageous, however, that can be said for many communities in King County,” said Gritsch. “The cost of living has had many of the adult children of friends moving to other communities and even other states.”
Dawn Papp, 69, had lived in Sammamish for 31 years. But by 2016, when she retired, she and her husband decided to move to Sequim, a small town on the northern part of the Olympic Peninsula. They love the small town feel of their new community, and the cost of living and cost of housing were much more reasonable for retirees with fixed incomes.
“Tax rate and cost of living we were facing as we entered retirement were big considerations,” said Papp.
Former mayor Bob Keller, 68, relocated to a small town near Leavenworth with his wife after 25 years in Sammamish. They picked their new town mainly for the outdoor recreation opportunities it offers.
When asked about white flight, Keller, who often views things with a wide lens, believes it has predominantly been white seniors who are leaving due rapidly increasing housing costs and property taxes, as well as relocating to the sunbelt or moving closer to other family. He said early on, Sammamish’s population was mostly white, so they would naturally make up a higher percentage of the current senior population that is moving away.
“The location is in proximity to these companies (Microsoft, Costco, Boeing, Amazon, Starbucks),” he said in an email. “Good when you sell but hard to get started in Sammamish or live and work in Sammamish.”
Keller also cited how much Sammamish has changed as a reason that many have left. A few former residents mentioned traffic congestion and the loss of a small town character as contributing factors for their decision to move.
“The city has become over-developed, traffic is awful, the more personal small-town feel has disappeared,” said Papp. “They should have pushed back and kept more greenspace. Every square inch has been built upon and the look is quite ugly.”
Bench, who now lives in Florida, said he enjoyed raising his children in Sammamish. He appreciated being able to make friends at the Rotary Club, church and the YMCA. He also attributed the high quality of education as a benefit for his kids.
Papp also said that Sammamish is a great place for education and raising children.
But these retirees demonstrated the general sentiment of those who live here — once your kids are out of the nest, it may also be time for you to leave.