Housing affordability is somewhat of a complicated issue that has posed incredibly prickly political questions to policymakers who are working to fix the problem. It has pushed numerous people — predominantly the middle class — out of cities that they can no longer afford to live in, greatly increasing drive times for those who can find housing farther away and forcing others to search for different jobs altogether. For many, these are just the start of the problems.
Sadly, across much of the U.S., evidence points to the fact that most Americans couldn’t make it work in major cities without taking on debt just to make ends meet. This is true for those working low to middle-income jobs such as teachers, first responders, and restaurant workers. But it is also true for those who typically make more than the average American such as tech workers.
There are multiple means of managing household expenses, such as budgeting or cutting unnecessary expenses to afford mortgages and rent. These means are often most viable in a household that is at its core financially stable. In some households, though, even with both adults in a family working solidly middle-class jobs, rent prices over $3,500/month are impossible and the idea of buying a home is simply unattainable.
These factors make buying location just as critical in choosing a house as price. The location of a home can affect its appreciation potential, insurance rates, and even the interest rates of loans. These can appropriately drop a price, but choosing to live somewhere farther away that is more affordable has several other impacts. For instance, although a family may be able to meet much of their home buying criteria, one or both adults may suffer in other ways including longer commute times and a higher risk of injury due to a longer workday. Ultimately, this can lead to mental health problems, family issues associated with being gone so much, other financial factors, and so on.
Ultimately, all of this trickles down to employers. Though many employees will be able to cope with these difficulties, most will experience some impact on their work because of it. The financial stress of living in subpar housing can leak into work, as can any other at-home issues that stem from commuting so far. Employees who feel like they can’t be part of their communities when they need to be — such as teachers — may have a harder time being successful at work.
Worst case scenario, some employees may look for alternative employment that can help solve these problems, costing employers good workers. This can make it difficult for companies and small businesses to retain quality employees with the skills needed to complete the job. Neighborhoods that are only affordable for certain people can make it more difficult to attract and retain a diverse, multicultural workforce, which has been linked to greater productivity and overall business success.
Do Solutions Exist?
Finding solutions to this issue can be as difficult as trying to find a needle in a haystack. But they are well worth the effort. Some studies have indicated that well-placed affordable housing can help keep workers in their local communities. Over time, these communities can stimulate local economies, create jobs, and boost local development.
Although the political avenues for improvement are thorny, efforts such as redistricting to allow for different types of development can make a big difference in easing the housing markets. Likewise, housing developments that work to attract middle-class workers can help balance these efforts and keep skilled labor in the community.
There are all sorts of great organizations out there that are trying to think outside of the box to help fight affordable housing issues in their local area. For instance, shipping container homes and apartments have taken off. These problems are significant and can have a profound impact on the local job markets, but solutions are out there and people are striving to combat the issue.