Kevin Kast, president and CEO of SSM St. Joseph Health Center in St. Charles, MO, provided a real-world example. In the rapidly growing area where the health center is located, the median income is more than $62,000 and the average home price has increased by 60% in recent years.
With more than half of the employees in the health system earning less than $40,000 per year, Kast says he is concerned that a lack of workforce housing will lead to problems in recruiting and keeping essential staff.
“This is a serious threat to my hospitals,” he says. While his peers may lose sleep over malpractice insurance and managed care, he worries about having the nurses, radiologists, cooks, maintenance staff and others who are so essential to the hospital’s functioning.
“We have to think creatively to solve this problem,” Kast says, because the principles that were used in the past no longer apply.
Those concerns were echoed by Carl Guardino, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group, a public policy trade association representing 180 of Silicon Valley’s most respected private sector employers.
“Every year I meet with members to identify key concerns in our area,” he noted. “Homes that are affordable for working families has been the number-one issue for five years running.”
One of the best ways to approach housing affordability is through a variety of creative partnerships. “We see again and again that meaningful action on workforce housing comes through dynamic partnerships involving private and public sector entities,” said Elliott. “By working together, and by drawing lessons from successes from around the country, we can improve the housing opportunity for millions of low- and middle-income families,” she added. “Not surprisingly, many of the most effective solutions come from local initiatives. And we should identify ideas and practices that have worked and look for opportunities to apply those ideas in other places,” she noted.
“If you hear something you like, steal it,” Guardino said, referring to innovative public-private partnerships for providing affordable housing. “Plagiarism may not have been okay in college, but it’s perfectly acceptable when talking about improving the communities where we live.” Given that advice, the Housing Trust of Santa Clara County, CA, which was created by Guardino’s group, is a model that could prove successful in many areas.
The affordable housing investment trust, which is funded entirely from private sources, offers loans and grants to create affordable housing opportunities. Since 2001, it has helped more than 1,260 families buy their first homes and enabled the development of hundreds of units of affordable rental housing and special-needs housing in Santa Clara County. Basically, with an investment of $16.1 million, the group has leveraged construction valued at $733 million and created more than 4,100 housing opportunities.
Other examples of successful efforts to make housing affordable — such as programs that provide no-interest loans to teachers or special financing for nurses and police officers — are catalogued on the National League of Cities Web site, said Charlie Lyons, the immediate past president of that group. Such programs are necessary, he said because the federal government spends $30 billion on housing annually today compared to $76 billion annually during Gerald Ford’s Administration.
Lyons, who is also a selectman in the Town of Arlington, MA, also listed measures that he sees as key to providing affordable housing:
- Pursue non-traditional housing types that meet the needs of today’s households.
- Reassure people that affordably priced housing in their community is not a threat to what they have invested in their home.
- Convince home owners that higher densities will not lead to lower property values.
- Extend outreach to churches, which can be a valuable ally in the effort to provide affordable housing.
It is also important to empower the grassroots to speak as one, said Guardino. His organization accomplished this by creating and staffing the Housing Action Coalition (HAC), a broad-based grassroots advocacy network representing more than 150 groups with an interest in housing. Among its members, the coalition counts home builders associations, local governments, environmental groups, affordable housing advocates and many others. And it has been very successful in serving as an advocate for affordable housing and endorsing specific projects. It also focuses on educating the public about affordable housing and in working for legislative solutions that address affordability problems.
Another key strategy is to “engage the grass tops” to address housing affordability concerns.The Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group did this by creating the Housing Leadership Council, which consists of 70 CEO-level officials of private and public groups. This group came up with seven strategic initiatives to address housing supply and demand. Among them are the Housing Trust of Santa Clara County and a peer-to-peer program that reaches out to public officials and community leaders to champion affordable housing.
Photos by Herman Farrer
[ Go to Top ]