The awareness of "workforce housing" has evolved over the last 10 years, so much so that it's become an industry buzzword. But not everyone defines workforce housing the same. We asked three industry experts to explain what exactly workforce housing is and how the perception of it has changed over the last decade.
Here’s what they had to say:
“Jamboree sees workforce housing as housing designed primarily for active growing families with school-aged children and working parents, much like any growing family today. While the financial aspect of affordable workforce housing in California, that is rents for those who earn between 30 percent and 60 percent of the AMI, hasn’t really changed, the design and development of this housing have made significant leaps forward in improving residents’ lifestyles and life opportunities. There is more emphasis on healthy living which means more outdoor amenities that promote fitness programs and exercise. Also, workforce housing properties we develop and operate offer residents programming that provides education and resources for enriching the quality of family life. Another advancement is that workforce housing built today is more energy-efficient and sustainable than 10 years ago and properties that we develop are in tune with the national healthy communities movement. Our goal is to develop contemporary workforce housing that is indistinguishable from market-rate.”
— Laura Archuleta, president, Jamboree Housing Corporation
“The term ‘workforce housing’ typically sparks images of firefighters, teachers, law enforcement professionals, and others who are overqualified for affordable housing yet can’t afford the average market-rate home. With the economic turmoil over the past decade, we find that the core of qualified workforce Americans has widened significantly. Expenses for necessities are rising daily, yet take-home pay is not. Employers are dealing with increased costs of doing business and government-mandated health care and, as a result, are cutting wages and hours to keep their doors open. The definition of workforce housing has definitely expanded, and the need for more affordable housing for a greater number of working-class Americans is no longer something we can afford to ignore.”
—Lori Trainer, vice president of public relations, Southern Affordable Services
"One of the most misunderstood terms in housing today is “workforce housing.” The term is often misconstrued as “affordable housing,” where what is really meant is “housing that is affordable.” 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. As developers, we must attend to the needs of the essential workers in the community and develop ways to provide housing that is affordable to the people that are gainfully employed, making from 60 percent to 120 percent of Area Median Income (AMI), generally categorized as teachers, policeman and fireman. Unfortunately, most of the federal subsidies and tax credits come from serving residents below that income threshold, therefore it is incumbent on the local planning departments to incentivize development to respond to this critical need. If cities create the right programs, such as density bonuses, up-zoning and impact-fee waivers, market forces will respond and fill the void by creating housing that is affordable to this essential segment of our population.
— Jason Robertson, vice president of development, American Land Ventures
"Workplace housing can simply be defined by looking at resident demographics as well as the communities currently under construction, and both have changed dramatically over the past decade. It has morphed from what would be considered basic multifamily housing construction with no amenity packages to high-end, aesthetically-pleasing communities with extensive amenity packages including pools, fitness centers, business centers, conference rooms and lounges. This is partly due in response to the changing demographic during the same time period. A decade ago, workforce housing had a larger number of individuals working in hospitality or retail industries. Today, it is dominated by professionals in careers which remain affected by the economic downturn, such as teachers, nurses, firemen, police and emergency first responders. Given the recent trends towards green living and the proliferation of social media, it will be interesting to see what changes are in store over the next 10 years."
— Gary Triplett, HCCP, CPM, assistant director of multifamily management, Drucker & Falk
“Workforce housing has traditionally meant serving families and individuals who make between 80 and 120 percent of the AMI. From preserving quality of life and reducing traffic congestion to improving emergency response times, it’s important for people to be able to live near where they work. Over the past decade, particularly in high-cost markets, this has become challenging for many. Stagnant wages and tighter underwriting standards have driven down households’ purchasing power, increasing the demand for rental housing, while policies such as zoning and regulation continue to constrain the supply and drive up the cost of rental housing. Apartments, both subsidized and market rate, are the largest source of workforce housing, and we need sound policies that support their continued availability and affordability.”
—William H. Dailey, president, CIS Management