Cracking the code to the workforce housing shortage ranks high on the agenda of the National Multi Housing Council (NMHC) thanks to Mary Ann King, who chairs the organization through January 2008.

“My priority is affordable housing,” said King, president of Moran & Co., and the partner in charge of the firm’s West Coast office in Costa Mesa, Calif. Last fall, NMHC leaders started a discussion on the topic of inclusionary zoning. In the past, market-rate developers had fought that concept vigorously, but one by one, she said, a number of very large market-rate builders stood up and said, “I have come to conclude that the only way to deal with affordable housing issues is through inclusionary zoning.”

To help turn that support into meaningful policy input for government, NMHC then hired a consultant to look at what it costs to build apartments, and if the rents are restricted on 20 percent of the units, how big a gap that leaves. The organization will also provide insight into ways cities can work with developers to bridge that gap.

The research will yield information on how inclusionary zoning ordinances work, and what other tools cities and counties are using to help developers deliver more affordable housing.

NMHC is working with the Urban Land Institute on the project and will rely on its district councils to review and vet the formula for various regions.

“This will elevate the dialogue into dollars and cents and who pays,” said King.

The recognition that workforce housing needs must be addressed has grown dramatically in the past year, she said. In Orange County, where she is based, King said, “We can’t open another hospital because we can’t get nurses. We are seeing it on everyone’s radar screen as an important issue.”

Developers should look at workforce housing as a business opportunity, she added, defining it as housing for people earning 60 percent to 120 percent of median income.

“There has been a phenomenal increase in development costs but the biggest part of demographic growth is people in their 20s, who don’t have high incomes. We can’t all build for renters by choice. A lot of the demand is in the 60 percent to 120 percent of median income range, but it is difficult to meet,” King said.