It’s common knowledge that we’re going through housing crises in many American urban centers. Nearly half of all renters can’t afford rent and over half a million Americans are homeless on any given night X. While most of the discourse on the housing crisis tends to focus on affordable and low-income housing, workforce housing, which is a nuanced category altogether, is often overlooked. What this article hopes to accomplish is specifically differentiate affordable and low-income housing from workforce housing and further explicate the housing crisis within the workforce context.
What exactly is workforce housing and how is it different from affordable and low-income housing?
Subsidized housing, referred to as low-income housing in this article, was established to provide decent and safe rental housing for eligible low-income families, the elderly, and persons with disabilities X. Moreover, housing is considered affordable when the tenant or homeowner pays no more than thirty percent of their gross income for housing costs X. Nearly 21 million families, many of whom are members of the workforce, paid rents considered unaffordable under federal standards in 2016, compared to 14.8 million in 2001 X. That’s a forty percent increase during a fifteen-year period.
Technically speaking, workforce housing is defined as homes for people making 60 to 120 percent of area median income (AMI), such as firefighters, teachers, nurses, law enforcement professionals, and others X. They are generally overqualified or earn incomes that are too high for low-income/subsidized housing yet can’t afford the average market-rate home and are therefore priced out X. For context, the term workforce housing dates back to a concept of providing housing in resort communities and ski towns, where the disparity in wages and the cost of purchasing or renting a home prevented the workforce from being able to live in town X.
What is happening and why is it an issue?
Across the nation, the influx of high-paying jobs in areas with limited housing—e.g. San Francisco and Boston—has sent housing prices soaring for the existing workforce X. This forces essential workers to live further away from their jobs, significantly increasing their commute times and costs. Don’t you want your firefighters, nurses, and chefs living closer? Most people probably do! If anything, when these workers live where they work, traffic congestion eases, neighborhoods are more diverse, and economies strengthen X. While some cities recognize that significant portions of their workforce are heavily burdened by housing costs, only a few minor steps have been taken to address the growing problem X. One probable reason why not much is being done is because many fail to realize how the workforce housing crisis is nuanced from affordable and low-income housing crises.