Like bridges and roads, affordable housing is an investment in a community’s infrastructure. Along with numerous social benefits, housing affordability supports diverse jobs and wage levels, and it attracts and retains workers – all critical to a community’s long-term economic success. Housing affordability also contributes to a community’s quality of life – increasingly important to businesses.
Many Virginians consider housing affordability a positive community benefit. According to a 2017 Campaign for Housing and Civic Engagement poll, 82% of Virginia voters believe that people who work in their community should be able to live in their community, and 56% connect the availability of housing options with the economic success of their community.
1. Contributes to the local economy: Each dollar invested in affordable housing boosts local economies by leveraging public and private resources to add to the community. Building 100 affordable rental homes generates $11.7 million in local income, $2.2 million in taxes and other revenue for local governments, and 161 local jobs in the first year, reports Our Homes Our Voices.
2. Attracts businesses and increases tax base: Housing affordability is a critical factor in attracting new employers and helping existing businesses grow. This is important not only for creating jobs, but also for building the region’s tax base so it can fund key services like education, public safety, parks and recreation, and mental health.
3. Reduces recruiting and retention costs: High housing costs cause challenges for recruiting and retaining employees, which increases costs for local businesses, including turnover and absenteeism. Some critical jobs that support the local infrastructure, such as school employees and public safety officers, are particularly hard to recruit and retain.
4. Encourages community commitment: Diverse housing options promote long-term economic and social integration while building community. For instance, the high cost of living in Arlington forces many young professionals to move elsewhere once they begin looking to buy homes and start families.
5. Builds stable and successful families: Stable housing contributes immensely to a family’s economic success. Paying less for housing means more is available for other essentials. People who have an affordable home are able to spend 5 times more on healthcare and 3 times more on nutrition, for instance.
Arlington’s Affordability Challenge
In Arlington, our limited geographic footprint and desirable location has steadily eroded the number of affordable places to live.
Between 2000 and 2015, the average rent increased by more than 90% as condominiums and luxury rental buildings replaced older apartment communities. More than 14,500 affordable rental units were lost. Today, just 8.2% of the County’s housing is affordable to households earning up to 60% of the area median income (AMI), according to Arlington’s 2017 Affordable Housing Master Plan Report. For perspective, Arlington’s area median income is $117,000 for a family of four, so a household earning $70,320, would be at 60% AMI.
Unfortunately, many of the fastest growing jobs in Arlington provide significantly lower wages. Among the top 10 most needed occupations in Arlington/Alexandria that require some post-secondary education, half provide lower pay: computer support specialists ($61,200), teacher assistants ($33,000), accounting clerks ($46,600), automotive mechanics ($51,700), and dental assistants ($42,800). Many fast-growing low-skill job categories provide even lower average wages: janitors and cleaners ($27,500), waiters ($26,200), customer service representatives ($39,600), and office clerks ($38,500).
Businesses Can Help
Despite Arlington County’s strong commitment to providing diverse housing opportunities, the number of affordable living options continues to erode. Businesses can help by embracing market and policy solutions that improve housing affordability; supporting greater access to affordable housing for their employees; and engaging with local housing groups to support their work. Housing affordability is a critical building block in Arlington’s future. Providing affordable living opportunities is an investment that will pay off now and for decades to come.