Workforce housing is housing that is affordable to teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public servants, as well as millions of Americans in the service and retail industries.
“These are the people who teach our children, keep our streets safe and provide the services we depend on,” Rayburn said.
The biggest barrier to the production of housing that is affordable to working families, according to Princeton Properties’ Chaban, is government regulatory policy.
“Local governments make their zoning laws so that any new homes will be on large lots,” Chaban said. Those homes will not be affordable to low- and moderate-income families and any effort to develop at higher densities leads to tremendous acrimony, he added.
Massachusetts passed an anti-snob zoning law in 1969, and that has been an important tool in developing affordably priced housing, Chaban said. But even that Massachusetts law, known as 40-B, is now being challenged by communities that want to exclude affordably priced housing.
“Strip away the veneer and you get to the root of the problem — economic bigotry,” Chaban said.
Crowe cited a study released last year by NAHB that looked at the amount of housing that is affordable to teachers, fire fighters, police officers and nurses in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas. That study, “Housing for Heroes,” found that those community heroes working in central cities have less than a 33% chance of finding a home that they can afford. In the surrounding suburbs, the opportunities drop a bit further to around 30%.
“We consider 50% to be reasonable,” Crowe said.
Four things must happen if we are to solve this housing affordability problem, Rayburn said:
- First is a strong economy. Working families do best when incomes are rising and jobs are plentiful, he said.
- Second is financing — We need low interest rates, and we need healthy GSEs that help keep the secondary mortgage market strong and dynamic, he said.
- Third — sound land use policies. In many communities, the housing affordability problem is made worse by a shortage of buildable land. The land-supply shortage is often the product of policies established by local governments, including large-lot zoning and urban growth boundaries. Restrictions on multifamily housing development also contribute to the problem. And high impact fees and regulatory costs push up the cost of housing. We need local governments to reform these policies, Rayburn said.
- Fourth, we need downpayment assistance programs, tax credits that make rents more affordable, a homeownership tax credit and other special programs that can help so many families on the edge of affordability buy or rent a home that meets their needs, he said.
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