Press | February 1, 2007

Housing the Workforce

Urban Land Magazine


The rise of construction costs, land values, and fuel prices, combined with continued population growth, is putting the squeeze on the American dream for many working families. American workers have seen their median hourly wage after inflation drop 2 percent since 2003 even as housing prices have shot up. Further complicating matters,
market conditions make it more profitable for housing developers to cater to the top of the market, which offers the highest sales margins. Meanwhile, federal involvement in funding affordable housing has dropped in recent decades.


The effects are far reaching, limiting both consumer spending and the ability of employers to recruit and retain talent in expensive housing markets. People in essential but low-to-moderate-income professions, such as teachers, firefighters, police officers, retail sales clerks, nurses, and janitors, are often forced to go hunting for reasonably priced housing far into the exurbs, resulting in long commutes to reach jobs.


Employer-assisted housing programs can help mitigate some of the expense, but the shortage of affordable housing is becoming increasingly critical. State and local governments and agencies, private financial institutions, and nonprofit and for-profit developers have joined forces in an array of combinations, using a wide variety of tools and
approaches to address the problem, including public/private partnerships, income tax credits, property tax adjustments, federal HOPE VI funds, grants, loan interest rate reductions, and density bonuses. Some developments have relied on modular construction or manufactured housing to bring down costs.


Affordability alone is not enough: many of the most successful projects also include community centers, daycare centers, job training services, and easy access to public transit to provide working families with crucial support. The following ten housing developments illustrate a range of creative approaches to providing housing for the nation’s workforce.


Rheingold Gardens
Brooklyn, New York


After suffering from crime and poverty in the 1980s and 1990S, the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn in recent years has begun to experience gentrification that has pushed housing prices higher in an already tight real estate market. In redeveloping a 6-7 acre (2.7-ha) former brewery site, Bluestone Group of Fresh Meadows, New York, included 158 units of housing for households earning 60 percent or less of the area median income. Designed by New York City-based Magnusson Architecture and Planning, Rheingold Gardens consists of two- and three-family houses as well as condominiums. It is part of a larger redevelopment that also includes cooperative housing, low-income rental apartments, and an affordable housing cooperative, plus a daycare center, a home-care office for seniors, a training center, and retail space. The developer worked with nonprofits, city agencies. and private investors to carry out the project.