A recent report from the California Housing Development Office indicates that while the state population is growing significantly, its production of affordable housing units in the last decade has fallen way short of the demand. The statistics didn’t surprise Mel Wilson, a seasoned Los Angeles broker who’s been concerned about the shortage of housing for middle class workers for years.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, and the increasingly steep competition for medium-range properties is a reality we just can’t ignore: our agents are making offers on behalf of middle-income clients on four, five, six different houses, to no avail.” Not only is it a frustrating experience for would-be homeowners, he notes, but many of them are having to live well over an hour away from their place of work, which puts a great strain on the health and well-being of workers, their families and the environment. The issue snowballs, he adds, when businesses move out of state because they can’t find the workers they need where they are located.
At an NAR conference a few years ago, Wilson, who also serves as Government Affairs Director of the 9,500-member Southland Regional Association of REALTORS® (SRAR), voiced his concerns about middle class housing access to Holly Moskerintz, NAR’s Community Programs Outreach Manager. She told him about two REALTOR® Party programs designed to help his local association explore solutions to the problems the region was experiencing; through these, SRAR was able to offer an Employer-Assisted Housing course, and sponsor a Workforce Housing Forum called “Housing Our Workers,” in early February 2017.
The back-to-back events were part of an overall plan to educate REALTORS® and the public, and to motivate them toward a plan of action, says Wilson. The four-hour Employer Assisted Housing course attracted nearly 50 REALTORS®, who learned out how to form a team and contact employers to discuss how they can offer home buying guidance and financial assistance to their employees. The Housing Our Workers Forum, held the following day, was funded in part by a Housing Opportunity Grant, and was co-sponsored by the Valley Economic Alliance and BizFed Institute.
This day-long event was free and open to the public, drawing more than 200 participants from the community. Its packed program included hardship testimonials from workers who travel great distances from home to work in Los Angeles; remarks by Scott Syphax of Nehemiah Corporation of America, a California-based social enterprise and real estate development firm; and a keynote speech by Ben Metcalf, Director of the California Department of Housing and Community Development. The heavy lifting took place in six breakout groups focused on Labor Partners, Social Benefits, Government Partners, Neighborhood Advocates, Public-Private Partnerships and Traditional & Creative Financing. Each of the forty panelists in these sessions was asked to respond to three questions: How did we get here? How can my agency contribute to an increase in housing options? and How can I be personally responsible for helping the cause? The results of each breakout group were tabulated and presented to the whole assembly via PowerPoint following the morning and afternoon sessions.
The Housing Our Workers forum garnered significant press coverage in the massive southern California market, raising awareness of the workforce housing shortage—and the REALTORS®‘ efforts to address it. The principal goal of the forum was met, as well, reports Wilson: “We brought representatives of all stakeholder groups to the table, to hear each other’s side and engage in civil discourse regarding the need for more middle class housing in Los Angeles.” Now that they’ve identified commonalities, he says, they can build on them. Looking ahead, as they work to overcome differences, learn to compromise, and continue to listen to each other and share ideas, SRAR will be there, meeting the affordable housing challenges in its region.
To learn more about how REALTORS® are working to create more housing for the Los Angeles workforce, contact Mel Wilson, Government Affairs Director the Southland Regional Association of REALTORS®, at (818) 534-2400 ext. 2424.
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