What is “Workforce Housing?”

The FWD #177 • 711 Words

You are the workforce. I am the workforce. We all are the workforce!

“Workforce housing” is a popular term these days. It’s even in the name of numerous state and local programs to address housing affordability. So why aren’t we just saying “affordable housing?”

Usually, workforce housing is used to describe a certain type of tenant more so than a certain type of housing. In this blog we will attempt to define the term, highlight its recent use in our work, and identify new workforce housing initiatives we are watching. 

HousingForward Virginia has an entire toolkit that explores workforce housing. In that resource, we defined it as, “Housing options that are affordable to a region’s essential workforce and workers in the region’s large and growing industries.”

Essential ski instructors

Some people trace the term’s origin back to wealthy Colorado ski resorts like Telluride and Aspen where, in the 1970s, new deed restricted housing reserved for employees of the area’s ski resorts was called workforce housing. Thus was born a new, government-led program to create, preserve, and maintain affordable housing for workers. 

For many, workforce housing is a way to define the type of tenant new housing should serve, or at least the affordability level those occupants need. Some have taken issue with the term and who it is meant to include or exclude. To take Telluride as an example, if your average ski instructor earns $40,000 a year, then advocates for local workforce housing would encourage the creation of housing priced at  30% of that average income.

It can be a compelling way to directly explain to elected officials and community members a specific need for housing and a price point tied to real people in a community. Do you want to live in a skiing town without any ski instructors? Probably not, so get them some decent housing!

In our toolkit, we show you the gap in workforce housing by jurisdiction and also highlight some great programs and projects aimed at providing more workforce housing. Highlighted below are a few recent workforce housing initiatives we are tracking.

As Virginia’s working population grows, so too will the need for these workers to sleep somewhere while they are not on the job. Workforce housing can be existing housing or new housing, rental or homeownership. Workers need all types!

Note that we differentiate workforce housing from the term “Missing Middle”. While we’ve seen it used to describe a missing middle band of affordability, this phrase is more universally associated with building types with densities between single-family homes and large multifamily buildings. Many local governments have “zoned out” this type of development over the last few generations.

Workforce housing highlights

Workforce Housing Now

The Community Foundation of Loudoun and Northern Fauquier Counties ,along with several other key philanthropists, recently launched an initiative to build public support for increasing the supply of lower-cost housing in the county—particularly for workers.

This “Workforce Housing Now” media campaign aims to raise local awareness about the need for workforce housing and to develop a set of actionable steps to increase supply. Their goals include increasing local funding and land use approvals for workforce housing. Loudoun’s strategy and success will be showcased during a panel at this year’s Governor’s Housing Conference!

Five Points, Martinsville

This workforce housing project focused on manufactured housing for homeownership. In an area where new home construction and starter home affordability have decreased significantly in recent decades, Martinsville aimed to fill the gap.

Project coordinator Jeff Sadler explains: “We wanted to provide some housing that could be affordable for people who are working, and maybe not making great wages but they’re going to work every day and they’re doing their part for the community and the community has maybe not, as far as housing has gone, done their part back.”

For the Youngkin Administration, any housing supported by the new state affordable housing tax credit is all about workforce housing. As the Secretary of Commerce and Trade says in an October 31 press release, this housing “provid[es] more affordable housing options for our workforce.” From Hopewell to Roanoke to Mecklenburg, the workers need more housing!

Do you have a workforce housing initiative in your locality or region? Contact us to tell us about it!

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