In many of America’s great cities, workforce housing is not just a problem, it is a crisis. In many cities, and specifically Boston, we are seeing inner city residents being comprised of the extremely wealthy and the very low-income. There are those that can afford to rent a condo for $4,000 a month and then there are those that qualify for subsidized rent or public housing. The middle-class, or workforce, is the group that has been squeezed out. Many city leaders recognize the need to fill this gap between the two extremes in housing and provide affordable housing for hardworking Americans.
The trend of renters spending even more of their income on housing is continuing to rise. For example, in Boston, over half of renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. What’s worse, is that a quarter of all renters in Boston spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing. The burden of this cost of housing has forced many workers to move further and further out of the city in order to find an affordable home.
Why is it so important to find housing solutions for our workforce? The opportunity to live near the workplace needs to be available to all residents. Many of these workers are essential to the local economy, including teachers, emergency workers, nurses and retail clerks, and the Increased commute times and associated costs are a burden for the workers living outside the city. In addition, this adds to traffic congestion, makes neighborhoods less diverse, and stifles the inner city economy due to a lack of capable employees.
An effective plan of action is needed and reducing costs is a step in the right direction. The high cost of building supplies, parking and land are some of the factors that deter developers. Due to high costs, developers are often forced to expect higher rent. To decrease costs of building supplies, many developers are changing from steel to wood or brick as the primary building material. While construction costs continue to increase in urban areas, the most significant cost for developers is the rise in the cost of land. The cost of land has risen 41.6 percent in the last decade in Boston.
Boston is just one example of this strain on affordable housing for the middle class. In fact, it is happening all over the US. Looking at the data provided by Trulia (Governing.com), all major cities are dealing with rising housing costs for the middle class. Cities with greater than 50 percent of available housing that is either too small or not affordable include New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, Boston, Seattle, D.C., and Austin.
Boston is growing and thriving, but leaders also recognize the urgent need to meet housing demand in the city. Mayor Walsh’s Housing Innovative Lab is ensuring the city workforce has access to housing they can afford. Other cities need to follow suit and develop an action plan that will fill the gap between low-income and the very wealthy, providing affordable housing for the middle class.