Friday, November 21, 2008

Congratulations CAAR!

Today I received an advance copy of an impressive new publication by the National Association of Realtors and the U.S. Conference of Mayors called Ambassadors for Cities, which highlights the work that local Realtors Associations around the country are doing to promote "affordable city living." There were 8 associations profiled nationwide, and I was pleased to see that our very own Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors (CAAR) was one of them. The publication cites CAAR's Work Force Housing Fund as a model approach for moving working families into their own homes. Congratulations to the good folks at CAAR for the well-deserved recognition.

The publication's introductory essay, "Many Roads Lead to an Affordable Community," includes some comments about the importance of affordable housing that I thought merited repeating. To wit:

One thing all of these associations have in common is a determination to alleviate the suffering of residents who cannot afford a decent place to live. A surprising number of people fit that description.

"Affordable housing," according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is housing that costs no more than 30 percent of a family's annual earnings. A family paying more than 30 percent is considered "cost burdened." It may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation, and medical care.

The State of the Nation's Housing 2008, published by Harvard University's Joint Center on Housing Studies, reports that 18 million families spend more than 50 percent of their income on rent or mortgages. Millions more spend between 30 and 50 percent. The number is increasing the fastest among homeowners. In an April 2008 survey conducted by the National League of Cities, 62 percent of city officials said that in the past year it had become difficult for low-income families to become homeowners in their communities.

The effects of the housing crunch ripple across society.

Public servants -- firefighters, police officers, teachers, nurses -- can no longer live in the communities they serve. When housing is unaffordable, employees can't find decent, affordable housing options near their jobs, so employers lose the ability to attract and retain workers. As business revenues fall, so do municipal tax revenues: one-third of city officials expect to end 2008 worse off than 2007. Local economies suffer.

For most Americans, home ownership is the single most critical step in wealth creation. Typically, when a home remains out of reach, so does a college education. Retirement security evaporates.

Conversely, when housing costs are within the reach of the workforce, neighborhoods grow stronger and more marketable. When public service employees are close to their jobs, government performance improves.

Amen to all that.

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