Is “affordable housing” a bad word? Does “workforce housing” or “housing for the workforce” conjure a more desirable image than “affordable housing?”
When MPC was project manager of the 1999 Regional Rental Market Analysis, focus groups and interviews highlighted the challenges of promoting an increased supply of affordable housing in the Chicago region, as mayors, neighborhood residents, and others confirmed that “affordable housing” equated to housing they did not want in their communities. However, these same residents, elected officials, and business leaders agreed that housing for the workforce was needed in many communities. “Workforce housing,” they told us, did not raise those same red flags.
Since then, I have used the term workforce housing, counting on this language to help engage broader support. (Building on employer-assisted housing initiatives to link employers to these conversations has also been a critical element of our approach.) But I’ve been wondering, what’s the right language for today when lots of Americans are struggling to pay their mortgage, property values are plummeting, and the economy continues to founder? Does “affordable housing” still conjure negative associations?
At the July 28 Bring Workers Home workforce housing forum in Boston, Mass., Megan Amundson and David Wluka described “No on 2,” the Massachusetts campaign to save the state’s affordable housing law that was threatened with repeal on the November 2011 ballot. While the affordable housing created under the Massachusetts affordable housing law (40B) provides housing for many constituencies, the campaign maintained a targeted message that highlighted the need for affordable housing for seniors and working families. During her presentation, Megan noted that they did broad polling four times during the six-month campaign to make sure they were communicating the right message, and, interestingly, the term “affordable housing” resonated with voters, while “workforce housing” connoted migrant, low-quality, or otherwise undesirable housing. The campaign succeeded with 58 percent of the vote, so communities in Massachusetts will continue to be required to provide affordable housing, as 40B remains intact.
What do you think – do you use the term affordable housing or workforce housing?