Thursday, October 27, 2011

Where will your region’s workers live?

by Maya Brennan, Center for Housing Policy

Policies that consider workers’ needs, housing affordability, transportation, and economic development work in concert to create and sustain a vibrant community. Most governments dedicate resources to attracting and retaining businesses, yet they are less likely to focus on also attracting and preserving housing that will meet workers’ needs. A geographic mismatch between housing and jobs can hinder local economic vitality by causing traffic congestion, extreme commuting, diminished productivity, and reduced quality of life. Sustainable and equitable patterns of development can help to prevent these problems. Workforce housing efforts and employer-assisted housing programs are also part of the solution.

The right ways to meet the housing needs of local workers will be different depending on local conditions. How many new jobs are projected in your region? What will the jobs pay? Where will the jobs be located? What types of housing will the new workers want and be able to afford?

Thanks to a report released Tuesday by the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, the Washington, D.C., region knows the answers to some of these questions and can take steps to align housing and jobs in the future. The D.C. region is projected to add 1 million new jobs between 2010 and 2030. This means that the D.C. area will need to add housing for as many as 730,000 new households. The alternative –adding less than 350,000 new residences and bringing the rest of the workers from outside of the metro area – would more than double the share of extreme commuters clogging D.C.’s roads and commuter rails. A horror story to rival any Halloween tale. And that doesn’t even consider the housing needs of workers filling another 1.8 million jobs that will turn over due to retirement and other factors.

Based on the specific jobs and household types expected, the report also tells us what types of housing will be needed and how much is needed in which counties. (See the tables and charts on page 6, 7, and 8.) The results would be a major shift from the area’s current development patterns. New workers in the area will need smaller homes, more affordable units, more multifamily buildings, and more rental opportunities.

Whether in the D.C. area or elsewhere, meeting workers’ needs means thinking strategically about ways to coordinate jobs, transportation, and housing so that workers can have the types of housing they need in locations that give them access to work without overburdening local transportation systems. Solutions might involve preserving existing affordable housing, creating incentives for needed development, increasing the use of employer-assisted housing, or reducing regulatory barriers to developing higher-density or affordable housing.

Regional forums like the Bring Workers Home series, hosted by the National Association of Realtors and National Housing Conference, are a great place to learn more about how to meet your workers’ housing needs. The next forum is on December 1 in Portland, Oregon, so get registered and mark your calendar. If you can’t make it to Portland in December, look to HousingPolicy.org or the archives from prior forums for ideas that can help.

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