Solutions for workforce housing boost our local economy | Opinion

Housing boost in South Florida

Palm Beach County continues to struggle with the supply of workforce housing for professions such as teachers, nurses, firefighters and other workers whose wages do not keep pace with the cost of housing. These workers in the 80 to 120 percent of Area Median Incomes ($60,000 to $90,000 household income per year) are driven farther and farther away from their places of employment, taking their resources and community contributions with them.

How does this impact our local economy?

Let’s say a married couple, a teacher and a firefighter, want to purchase a home near their jobs and apartment. Their combined income of $80,000 leaves almost no ability to save for a down payment after their high rent payment, car payments, utilities, food and other necessities. The only way they see a pathway to homeownership is to leave Palm Beach County and relocate in St. Lucie County, which is now the beneficiary of the couple’s purchasing power. Eventually, the 80-mile roundtrip commute becomes too much and they find jobs closer to their new home.

This scenario is all too familiar. Without workforce housing, Palm Beach County loses revenue and skilled employees, employers lose productivity and profitability due to turnover, and communities lose civically-engaged residents.

How can we make it possible for our local workforce to become homeowners, strengthen their financial stability and contribute to our economy — all measures of strong, sustainable families and communities?

What we have found at Community Partners of South Florida is that by deploying a comprehensive set of solutions, services and funding neighborhood-by-neighborhood in areas where opportunities for upward economic mobility are greatest, we can make homeownership possible.

Riviera Beach is one example. Community Partners and the Riviera Beach Community Development Corporation have partnered to create a Homebuyers Club. The six-month program provides homebuyer education and the opportunity for individuals who qualify to enroll in a match-savings program. Qualified individuals who save $2,000 for their down payment and closing costs can receive $4,000 in matching funds from Community Partners. A civic engagement facet to the program emphasizes the value of being a homeowner and the importance of civic engagement through commission and school board meetings, Healthy Neighbors activity and volunteerism.

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