Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Affordable Housing Isn’t a Handout, It’s a Necessity For Our City

By Nancy Vincent

The question is, “Who are we building affordable housing for?” The short answer is, “All of us.” Yes, all of us benefit from affordable housing being available in our communities. When teachers, police officers, nurses, grocery store workers, food servers, and others are able to live close to where they work we can see benefits to the environment, local businesses, transportation infrastructure, and health care.

Several studies have shown the connection between affordable housing, transportation, and economic development. The Urban Land Institute published a study that gauged, “perceptions by employers and commuters regarding the impact of long distances between housing and jobs on business operations and workers’ quality of life.” Employers noted the difficulty that a lack of affordable housing posed for recruiting and retaining employees, and commuters expressed the desire to move closer to work if more affordable housing were available. The State of New Jersey conducted a Corporate Survey that suggested that housing plays a role in where businesses decide to locate, noting that a lack of affordable housing can put a local economy at a competitive disadvantage. Additionally, the New England Public Policy Center suggested that unaffordable housing is linked to slower employment growth.

According to the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis report, “Housing the Region’s Future Workforce: Policy Challenges for Local Jurisdictions, “half a million new workers will commute to their jobs from places outside the region creating unsustainable levels of traffic congestion…”

Additionally, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments made the case that, “by increasing the supply of affordable housing near job centers, the region will make progress on three important issues: the scarcity of affordable housing, the congestion on roads, and the quality of the region’s air.” Also, the Terwilliger Center for Workforce Housing published a report titled, “Priced Out: Persistence of the Workforce Housing Gap in the Washington, D. C., Metro Area,” that presented the results of a study of six major employment cores in the metro area including Tysons Corner and Alexandria, and found that there was a shortage of housing opportunities for two-, three-, and four-person households in all six cores for those households whose incomes fell in the 60 – 100 percent range of Area Median Income. This undersupply has been forcing workers to seek affordable housing further and further from where they work, which in turn affects commute times and quality of life.

Then what about someone who grew up in the City, went off to college, and now wants to live in the City they love? Should a senior who is living on a fixed income be able to afford to stay in the City?

We know there are children growing up in the City school system who are in unstable housing situations, with the potential to seriously impact their educational outcomes. Researchers supported by the MacArthur Foundation tell us that housing boosts children’s school achievement, reduces criminal involvement, improves parent and child health, raises employment rates, reduces mental illness, and decreases addictive behavior. Can we also imagine the impact on their classmates?

How about someone with a disability that prevents them from earning a high income? Persons with disabilities have a particularly difficult time finding housing that is accessible and affordable. A disability may adversely affect a person’s earning potential making it difficult to find suitable housing in the community where they grew up or close to family.

Some might think, “If you can’t afford to live here, then move somewhere else.” True, that’s an option, but at what cost? Families, seniors, and individuals who have been part of the Falls Church community are being priced out of the market. There are employees of City schools, retail establishments, Kaiser, City government departments, and more who have to commute long distances. Long commutes certainly affect the commuter’s wallet with increased gas, vehicle maintenance, tolls, or public transportation costs. The commuter’s health is also adversely affected according to a 2012 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine that found that the farther people commute by vehicle, the higher their blood pressure and body mass index is likely to be. And, long commutes substantially affect the quality of life for all of us in the region with the added impact on the environment and gridlock.

The City of Falls Church is a unique jurisdiction whose residents represent the vibrant spectrum of life in Northern Virginia. Let’s keep it that way. Bottom line — let’s all advocate for affordable housing. It benefits all of us.