How do we define “workforce housing”? Like any assessment of housing needs and market conditions, the definition should depend on the community. “Workforce housing” is commonly defined as housing for households with incomes above those typically served by federal housing programs. Housing affordable to households with incomes between 60 and 120 percent of area median income (AMI) is a typical definition. In some higher-cost communities, “workforce housing” can refer to those with incomes up to 140 percent of AMI.
When some people refer to “workforce housing,” they are not referring to income groups but rather to particular types of workers, often workers in public-serving positions, such as teachers, police officers and fire fighters. These workers are often seen as essential to the well-being of a community and have increasingly seen housing costs rise faster than incomes.
In our work developing workforce housing strategies in collaboration with local communities, we think is important to look closely at the both the characteristics of the individuals making up the local workforce as well as the goals and priorities the local community has set for its growth and development. The “workforce housing” definition is not a one-size-fits-all definition. In James City County, for example, the local economy is highly dependent on the tourism sector. Workers in the accommodation, hospitality, food services, recreation and retail sectors are critically important to the County’s economic vitality. Many of these workers earn wages that would put them far below what might be considered “workforce housing” level but they are, indeed, essential to the County’s workforce.
Framing housing affordability issues as “workforce housing” issues has been important for expanding the set of stakeholders that are brought to the table around housing policy and planning. However, defining what “workforce housing” means in a particular community should be an important part of the planning process. Let us know if we can help you define workforce housing needs in your community!