– No one can predict the future of real estate, but it’s important to prepare
– Virtual Inman Connect on Nov. 1-2, 2023 and Inman Connect New York on Jan. 23-25, 2024 are events to attend for tools and knowledge
– Advocating for more affordable and workforce housing is important for Realtors
– Definitions of affordable housing and workforce housing are based on household income
– Some areas are more expensive than others, but employees in various industries work in those areas
– Short-staffing and frustration in care and service fields can result from absenteeism
– NIMBYism (not in my backyard) is a phenomenon where existing residents oppose denser, lower-priced housing
– Affordable and workforce housing can enhance property values and public safety
– Realtors can educate themselves on housing issues and proposed solutions
– Realtors can mobilize their communities and impact proposed changes and legislation
– Smaller steps like donating or volunteering can also make a difference in affordable housing initiatives
No one can predict the future of real estate, but you can prepare. Find out what to prepare for and pick up the tools you’ll need at Virtual Inman Connect on Nov. 1-2, 2023. And don’t miss Inman Connect New York on Jan. 23-25, 2024, where AI, capital and more will be center stage. Bet big on the future and join us at Connect.
As Realtors, we must stay abreast of housing issues within our communities. We should be advocating in our communities for more affordable and workforce housing.
First, let’s set the stage with some standard definitions. While the metrics determining whether housing is workforce housing, affordable housing or luxury housing can vary, these are the most common definitions I’ve found (note: both are based on household size):
- Affordable housing: For households making at or below 60 percent of the median income for the area.
- Workforce housing: For households between 80 percent and 120 percent of the median income for the area.
Within a market, certain areas are obviously more expensive than others. Look at Des Moines, Iowa, for instance. Per Altos Research, the median list price for a single-family home is $232,500. Just 15 minutes west of downtown, in West Des Moines, the median list price is $526,422.
Despite the difference in median list price, employees from food service workers to childcare providers to professionals and executives all work in West Des Moines, like many suburbs.
Suburbs around the country are touting their infrastructure, quality of life and amenities to attract new, higher-income residents (who purchase higher-income homes and pay more in property taxes). But, per the National Low Income Housing Coalition: “Like roads and bridges, affordable housing is a long-term asset that helps communities and families thrive.”
Local amenities depend on employees in many industries like child care, home health care, service, etc. Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, absenteeism rates vary widely among professions, from a low of 3.1 for management and professional employees to 4.7 for service employees.
In other words, 50 percent more people are absent from businesses that form the backbone of our amenities, leading to short-staffing and frustration in these care and service fields. We depend on the people who care for our children and our aging parents, and when those people cannot make it to work, it impacts us quickly.
Absenteeism has many causes. Two of the top eight causes of absenteeism, family issues and commuting issues, could be reduced if these employees were able to live closer to their place of employment and have a choice in their housing type.
The need for more affordable and workforce housing is well documented in the U.S., but the question is always where it should go. The issue is a phenomenon called NIMBYism, otherwise known as “not in my backyard.” When denser, lower-priced housing is proposed, existing residents often oppose these efforts, expressing concerns such as increased crime and traffic, lowered property values and a lower quality of life.
In fact, the opposite is true. Per the University of California Irvine: “The placement of affordable housing does not negatively impact the surrounding community, and in many ways, it enhances both local property values and increases public safety.”
In addition, when businesses suffer higher absenteeism, those businesses can no longer serve their communities as effectively and efficiently. In essence, by opposing affordable and workforce housing, residents of these areas may actually be decreasing their quality of life.
What Realtors can do to help
Here are my challenges to you as a conscientious Realtor to get involved in your communities and neighborhoods:
Step 1: Educate yourself on the national, regional and local levels
Find out about nonprofits and entities advocating for affordable housing solutions, down payment assistance solutions and more within your communities. At a national level, publications, such as ShelterForce, are dedicated to educating anyone interested in housing issues.
Nationally, you might find large banks actively donating money to work on this issue, or even companies like Amazon through their Amazon Housing Equity Fund. Finally, several nonprofits are working on these issues nationwide; the most well-known is probably Habitat for Humanity.
Each community has its own smaller organizations as well. For example, here in Des Moines, some nonprofits actively working on the housing affordability crisis are the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, HOME, Inc., and Neighborhood Finance Corporation.
Step 2: Learn about proposed solutions
Zoning changes and innovative housing solutions are making their way across the country.
- Arlington, Virginia, recently allowed lower-density multifamily housing to be built (up to six-unit structures).
- Washington state has passed legislation to allow duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes in most areas, overriding local zoning.
- Cities as far apart as Oakland, California, and Durham, North Carolina, are working to both allow accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and keep the building cost for these units lower.
Several zoning changes are unique in that they are taking place in suburbs or higher-income areas, as opposed to traditionally lower-income areas. This is the kind of creative thinking that can help ease the housing affordability crisis.
Step 3: Show up
Realtors can mobilize their communities, using their connections to both poll the community and to impact proposed changes and legislation.
Consider these examples:
- In Knoxville, Tennessee, the East Tennessee Realtors have polled over 800 residents to produce zoning change proposals.
- California’s Contra Costa Association of Realtors, located in the Bay Area, helped to defeat a proposed real estate transfer tax and replace it with a slight increase in the utility tax, thus stopping another barrier to affordable homeownership in an area already known for its sky-high housing costs.
Step 4: Small changes to make right now
Even if you are not able to mobilize your communities in this way, as a Realtors, you can always take smaller steps:
- Donate to or volunteer with the affordable housing nonprofits you find. Make sure you do it publicly — not to brag, but to inspire others to follow suit.
- Share the posts and program details for organizations who are doing the work.
- When zoning changes come up, review them thoughtfully before expressing an opinion. You may find yourself saying YIMBY (yes in my backyard) and encouraging others to do the same.
If you have made it this far, thank you. Together, we can create more affordable and workforce housing, elevating living conditions throughout our communities.
After spending years in corporate America, Nora Crosthwaite decided to become a residential Realtor on a whim in 2015, serving the Des Moines, Iowa area. She built a small team, incorporating systems throughout, and now owns Home Sweet Des Moines, brokered by Realty ONE Group Impact. She is currently the chair of the Iowa Association of Realtors Diversity Committee and focuses any extra time on affordable housing initiatives in the Des Moines area. Connect with her on Threads and Linkedin.
Property Chomp's Take:
No one can predict the future of real estate, but as Realtors, we can prepare for it. Staying abreast of housing issues within our communities is crucial, and advocating for more affordable and workforce housing is a responsibility we must take on.
To set the stage, let's clarify some standard definitions. Affordable housing is typically defined as housing for households making at or below 60 percent of the median income for the area. Workforce housing, on the other hand, caters to households between 80 percent and 120 percent of the median income for the area.
In many markets, there are areas that are more expensive than others. Take Des Moines, Iowa, for example. The median list price for a single-family home is $232,500, but just 15 minutes west of downtown, in West Des Moines, the median list price jumps to $526,422. Despite the difference in price, employees from various industries, including food service workers, childcare providers, professionals, and executives, all work in West Des Moines, just like in many suburbs across the country.
Suburbs are touting their infrastructure, quality of life, and amenities to attract new, higher-income residents who can afford higher-priced homes and pay more in property taxes. But it's important to recognize that affordable and workforce housing is essential for communities to thrive. Local amenities, such as child care, home health care, and service industries, heavily rely on employees in these fields. However, absenteeism rates in these industries can be high, impacting staffing levels and the overall quality of services provided.
One way to address absenteeism and improve the quality of life in communities is by advocating for more affordable and workforce housing. The need for such housing is well-documented in the U.S., but the challenge lies in deciding where it should be located. Unfortunately, a phenomenon called NIMBYism, or "not in my backyard," often arises when denser, lower-priced housing is proposed. Existing residents may oppose these efforts, fearing increased crime, traffic, lowered property values, and a perceived lower quality of life.
However, research shows that affordable housing does not negatively impact surrounding communities. In fact, it can enhance property values and increase public safety. By opposing affordable and workforce housing, residents may inadvertently be decreasing their own quality of life and hindering the businesses that serve their communities.
As Realtors, we have a role to play in addressing the housing affordability crisis. Here are some challenges to consider:
1. Educate yourself: Learn about nonprofits and organizations advocating for affordable housing solutions in your community. Stay informed about national and regional initiatives. Publications like ShelterForce can provide valuable insights into housing issues.
2. Learn about proposed solutions: Familiarize yourself with zoning changes and innovative housing solutions happening across the country. Examples include Arlington, Virginia, allowing lower-density multifamily housing, and Washington state passing legislation to allow duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes in most areas. These changes can help ease the housing affordability crisis.
3. Show up: Mobilize your community by using your connections to poll residents and impact proposed changes and legislation. Examples include the East Tennessee Realtors polling residents to produce zoning change proposals and the Contra Costa Association of Realtors helping defeat a proposed real estate transfer tax.
4. Make small changes: If mobilizing your community feels overwhelming, you can still make a difference as a Realtor. Donate to or volunteer with affordable housing nonprofits, share their programs on social media, and review zoning changes thoughtfully before expressing an opinion. Encourage others to support affordable and workforce housing initiatives.
By taking these steps, Realtors can contribute to creating more affordable and workforce housing, ultimately improving living conditions throughout our communities. It's time to bet big on the future and join the movement for a more inclusive and equitable real estate market.
Nora Crosthwaite is a residential Realtor based in Des Moines, Iowa. She is the owner of Home Sweet Des Moines, brokered by Realty ONE Group Impact. Nora is also the chair of the Iowa Association of Realtors Diversity Committee and actively involved in affordable housing initiatives in her local area. Connect with her on Threads and Linkedin.