Wednesday, July 14, 2010

This Just In… “Cost of Place” Still Too Expensive for Working Families

On Monday, NHC and the National Association of Realtors (NAR) made a stop in Minneapolis, MN, half way through their cross-country trek talking about workforce housing and livability issues for working families.

As the keynote speaker, Jeffrey Lubell, executive director of the Center for Housing Policy, described how emerging changes in demographics and demand, as well as long-term instability in energy costs, are driving new ideas in housing and development. “There is a growing desire around the country for more livable communities that are walkable, close to transit or job centers.” Lubell put these changes in context of the growing “cost of place,” or the combined costs of housing, transportation and utilities.

Minnesota is an interesting case when it comes to “cost of place." The state has touted one of the highest homeownership rates in the country for decades, tempting some to think that affordability isn’t a top-tier issue there. But Minnesota also features some of the most dramatic sprawl in the country, and a workforce growing increasingly tired of the unpleasant, unproductive time they spend commuting.

By bringing together some of the brightest practitioners and thinkers in the Midwest from a slate of different sectors, the Bring Workers Home forum laid out the needs of working families in Minnesota, and started to find some solutions.

Image: Rochester, MN's Mayo Clinic, a local leader in employer-assisted housing (via

The 2009 Metro Council Metropolitan Survey found that transportation is the top concern for Twin Cities residents. Nearly a third of the Survey respondents said transportation is the single biggest problem in the area, with fifty percent saying it is one of the top three issues. Families and individuals are finding that when they incorporate the time and money they spend getting to and from work into household costs, the full cost of place can become overwhelming.

On top of transportation, housing costs are getting tougher for Minnesotans. While about one in five households in the Twin Cities had high housing cost burdens in 2000, one in three face them now, according to Craig Helmstetter from Wilder Research, who was quoting his recent research report on the impact of the recession.

Workforce Housing’s Links to Other Social Problems
Helmsetter also noted an affordable housing ownership gap among white families and families of color. While 78 percent of white households in Minnesota own a home, the same is true of only 46.5 percent of households of color.

Tom Fulton from the Family Housing Fund, a longtime NHC member, moderated a session that touched on some of the unexpected side-effects of workforce housing problems, including declining test scores from students who are forced to move after foreclosure.

The forum focused on some of the workforce housing solutions coming out of the Midwest. For example, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota has donated $7 million to create affordable housing for their workers and the broader community. In Chicago, Loyola University offers up to $10,000 in assistance to staff, faculty and students choosing to locate along the transit corridor that serves the school. Bremer Bank offers $5,000 grants to employees. The list goes on and on. 

Next stop for the regional forums is Austin, Texas on August 12th. You can get more information and register here. If you’re in the region, why not attend? The housing problem for working families has become so much more difficult and complex that creative, flexible solutions are needed now for families in distress.

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