Housing with a social impact is needed now more than ever, yet there is not nearly enough creation or preservation of workforce housing. Designed to provide housing options for the growing number of individuals and families who earn incomes that exceed the threshold to qualify for government-assisted affordable housing, but struggle to pay market-rate rents, workforce housing has gained attention from developers and owners in recent years due to population growth and the declining rate of home ownership. Workforce housing residents typically earn 60-80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), but in high-cost markets incomes that are as high as 120 percent AMI can qualify.
The best examples of affordable housing pair residents with a spectrum of supportive services that help them thrive, including afterschool programs, as well as health and wellness services. Why aren’t all affordable housing communities offering these services and why can’t workforce housing do the same?
Workforce housing communities can and should be more than just a place to live—and should be about more than just owners and investors maximizing their profits. However, there is a way for residents to receive these services and benefit owners’ bottom lines at the same time. We are not talking about building sparkling swimming pools, fancy gyms, or other luxury amenities. The services that really matter are afterschool programs, quarterly health screenings, assistance with costly prescriptions, access to legal support, and tax/financial support services.
These services improve residents’ overall livelihood, happiness, and stability. Residents who are stable and happy are less likely to move away, which in turn helps to build community and lower turnover costs for owners. Lower turnover costs bring down expenses, increase net operating income, and ultimately maximize profits.
One example of an owner implementing these services and amenities for residents is Comunidad Realty Partners. This real estate investment firm realized this opportunity in 2014 when it purchased Villas Del Zocalo I, II, and III, a 622-unit workforce housing community in Dallas, Texas. Comunidad introduced afterschool care programs and brought health and wellness services on-site, making amenities like Zumba classes and health and biometric screenings available to residents. As residents began to take advantage of these services and feel more connected to their homes, turnover rates at Villas Del Zocalo significantly declined.
Most owners want to help their residents, but don’t know how to implement services in a cost-effective way. They assume it is cost-prohibitive and logistically complicated. The reality is that an owner can offer all these services and amenities for free, simply by partnering with local non-profits that already have these resources and share owners’ goals, or for-profit businesses that will lend their resources as a community service.
Slowly but surely, the workforce housing industry is catching up when it comes to service delivery. Some owners have even experimented with tech solutions like Rezility, an app that helps owners form and facilitate partnerships with local non-profits and for-profits, while helping residents take advantage of the services their homes offer. These emerging platforms can also help property owners better connect with residents to understand their needs and invite more open communication.
The goal of delivering high-quality workforce housing to communities—for investors, lenders, borrowers, and property managers alike—can and should be about so much more than making sure the numbers add up. Developers and owners should think holistically and long-term, seeking out innovative partnerships that improve residents’ lives and create stable, healthy, profitable communities at the same time.
Anthony Tarter serves as executive vice president and director of workforce housing and social impact at Bellwether Enterprise.