Grassroots Solution to the Affordability Gap

How you can help create opportunities.

March 1, 2008

Today’s housing market is not meeting the needs of many people looking for a home or apartment. To put it in perspective, imagine a supermarket that sells caviar and filet mignon but no macaroni or hamburger.

Despite depressed prices in many markets, the National Association of Home Builders’ Housing Opportunity Index showed in November that only 42 percent of all new and existing homes sold in the third quarter were priced low enough to be affordable for families earning the national median income of $59,000. That’s down from 61.5 percent in the third quarter of 2001, when both incomes and home prices were lower.

Although the affordability problem is most acute in California and New York City, it exists in pockets throughout the country, forcing real estate professionals to turn away customers because the market simply doesn’t offer enough choice. Many communities have virtually no starter homes or places for seniors to downsize and stay in their communities, connected to friends and neighbors. In many cases, young people can’t afford to continue living in the communities in which they grew up.

Why Be Part of the Solution?

Builders, developers, bankers, nonprofit organizations, government officials and planners, and real estate practitioners can work together to increase the variety and supply of places to live. It’s to everyone’s benefit. Employers can more effectively attract and retain skilled workers when good housing choices are available nearby, making it unnecessary for employees to commute long distances. Every community benefits when parents can spend more time with their children and less time commuting.

Of course, not everyone is ready for home ownership. Our communities also need a healthy supply of attractive rental homes and apartments. Affordable rentals create stability by eliminating the need for families to move frequently or unnecessarily double or triple up in cramped quarters.

Creating Housing Opportunities

Today, nonprofit developers are creating attractive for-sale and rental homes and apartments. In fact, new affordable homes are often the best thing on the block. Local nonprofit developers and housing advocates will be happy to show you successful developments that are creating new assets in their neighborhoods.

But knowing what’s available is just the first step. Real estate practitioners are uniquely positioned to influence the market in affordable-home production. There are a number of ways to get involved:

  • Do your own research. Learn more about the housing opportunities that are achieved through transit-oriented development, more efficient and compact design, and mixed-income development.
  • Create public support for greater housing choices. Public support and political will are critical to getting a greater variety of affordable homes built.
  • Teach your sales associates. If you own a brokerage, include affordable-home and market supply education in your company’s new-salesperson orientation.
  • Get involved with NAR’s Housing Opportunity Program, which offers tools to position REALTORS®, brokers, and associations as leaders in creating housing opportunities in their communities.

By promoting the development of homes and apartments that are within reach of working families in your communities, you’ll not only increase business opportunities for yourself but also address other important civic goals, such as easing traffic congestion, creating stronger neighborhoods, and, in the long run, boosting your city’s bottom line.

Writer Karen C. Naungayan is communications director for Housing California, a statewide nonprofit organization representing a coalition of advocates for affordable housing. For more information visit