Communities often oppose affordable housing because they think it’s for the destitute. But these days it’s for middle-income earners.

“Workforce housing” is a term that is foreign to most of my fellow Realtors, but I hope it becomes more familiar. I was first introduced to it in 2016 when I sold a piece of property to a company that builds a lot of it.

It was a difficult transaction that not only involved the individual buyer, but also the local community, which at first opposed it. It took me using all of my negotiation, speaking and educational skills to get this one through.

The developer wanted to build workforce housing on 16 acres for middle-income earners, such as nurses, police officers, firefighters and teachers. But for this, the city needed to grant the area a zoning change.

We had a community meeting, and the residents turned out in droves to oppose the erection of this “monstrosity.” They felt that the introduction of “low-income” renters into their neighborhood would distort their community and cause their property values to plummet.

I was shocked. Who would not want nurses, police officers, firefighters and teachers in their neighborhoods? How did these professionals get to be classified as “low income” anyway?

So many questions whirled in my head. So I started to do some research. First, I contacted the district’s councilwoman to get a list of her constituents’ objections. She graciously sent them to me.

The Urban Land Institute defines workforce housing as “housing that is affordable to households earning 60 to 120 percent of an area’s median income.” Housing can also been defined as affordable if the housing costs are no more than 30-40 percent of income. As a property manager, my company uses the lower 33.3 percent to qualify prospects on rent affordability. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) states that in 2018, $74,900 is the median income for Nashville, Tennessee. 

According to WKRN news, in 2011 you could rent a two-bedroom apartment for $825 in Nashville, and now — eight years later — the average monthly rent is $1,536. One year’s average rent, then, would be $18,432. That means a newly hired teacher in metro schools who has a masters degree and was hired with a salary of $45,629 would not qualify to rent a two-bedroom apartment. It’s shocking.

In other words, Nashville’s rental housing has become unaffordable for the people we need most in our communities.

To get the wider community’s buy-in, I had to educate its members on what workforce housing is, who it caters to and show them what the buildings look like. I also had to explain to them what the qualification criteria are. It turned out that both credit and background checks (something not done on new homebuyers in the neighborhood) were completed on all applicants.

The apartment building they thought would be an eyesore could be classified as “upscale.” The apartments had granite counter tops, 9-foot ceilings, a club room, a yoga studio, indoor children’s playroom, outdoor playground, grilling stations and a swimming pool.

Once I dealt with the list of objections, I called for a new community meeting. Then my client and I addressed every single objection directly with the members of the community. Ultimately, after all of this, only one person voted against the project.

Now that I saw what I needed to do to help this 261-unit property come to Nashville, I have embarked on a journey to get more of these properties here. I started learning more about Opportunity Zones, Qualified Census Tracts and Difficult Development Areas, Low Income Housing Tax Credit Financing and other programs to attract developers into my city.

Nashville is number seven of the list of top 10 cities with increasing rents, according to the local business press. So we’re not the only ones facing this affordability crisis. For a more in-depth examination of this national crisis, read The New Republic‘s  “The New American Homeless.

Realtors in other cities can make great livelihoods by specializing in this type of housing at the same time as they do good by bringing affordable housing to their markets.

Moren Adenubi is a real estate agent with Crown Realty Homes in Nashville, Tennessee.

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