It’s Time to Have a Conversation About Workforce Housing
By Marc Padgett, President, Summit Contracting Group
JACKSONVILLE, FL, OCTOBER 15, 2019:
Jacksonville’s business environment continues to flourish. Recently, Governor Ron DeSantis announced that two innovative tech companies are bringing over 500 new jobs to Jacksonville, the latest in a string of corporate relocations and expansions in our city. In 2018, Forbes ranked Jacksonville the 4th best city in the United States for job seekers. While this is exciting, it also raises an issue that some people are uncomfortable talking about: workforce housing.
The lack of available housing for working families is a growing problem nationally and locally. Unfortunately, there is a negative stigma attached with the term “workforce housing” that stems from tired clichés that deeply subsidized housing brings blight, crime and declining property values to the surrounding community. When developers attempt to invest in this area, they are often met with pushback from neighbors and a “not in my backyard” mentality.
In fact, workforce housing most often references attractive, affordable homes for middle-income workers. It includes moderate-cost single- and multifamily housing for renters and owners, although it is most often associated with multifamily apartments.
The Urban Land Institute defines workforce housing as “housing affordable to households earning between 60 and 120 percent of area median income (AMI),” which in Jacksonville, according to research in The State Of The Nation’s Housing 2019 Report by Harvard University, is $57,300.
Who are these people for which workforce housing is designed? They are teachers, firefighters, police officers, nurses and others who provide valuable services for our community; people who deserve safe, high-quality housing but who are not paid salaries that allow them to purchase within a market’s housing inventory. They are also office workers, restaurant and hospitality workers, recent college graduates, Millennials and yes, even tech employees.
Contrary to the negative false assumptions that many people make about workforce housing, it acts as a catalyst for growth in cities that invest in it and it provides shelter for exactly the kinds of individuals we want to live next to. Unfortunately, there is simply not enough housing stock being built for these individuals.
Also, if our middle-market workforce is being squeezed this hard, then what must that mean for those making less than 60 percent of AMI? Do they deserve any less dignity and respect? I believe it’s time we stop stigmatizing workforce housing and start recognizing its value and desirability to our city, the many thousands of people who already live and work here, and the many thousands to come.
This article was also published in the Florida Times-Union: