“Housing that’s Affordable”

Let’s Talk About “Housing that’s Affordable”

Ask any man or woman on the street to tell you what comes to mind when they hear the term “affordable housing,” and you’ll probably get a strong, emotional response.

Recently, our colleagues at Greater Greater Washington and the Coalition for Smarter Growth collaborated on a blog post that asked this very question of its readers. They reported hearing comments that included the terms “public housing,” “subsidized housing,” and “Section 8 housing.” We at the Alliance have also heard comments about “housing for people who don’t work,” “housing for homeless people,” “increased crime there,” and “decreasing property values in the neighborhood.”

Each person may react differently to the negative connotations of the phrase "affordable housing".

Each person may react differently to the phrase “affordable housing.”

Sound familiar? Over the years, the term “affordable housing” has become so laden with negative connotations and perceptions that the very utterance of this term is a non-starter in many communities.

Advancing the Conversation

But if we re-position the words to say “housing that’s affordable” for a variety of income levels, we will probably get a different response. In many discussions, we refer to college education that’s affordable, or health care that’s affordable. So why not talk about housing that’s affordable? Maybe this simple juxtaposition of words can change the dynamic of the conversation.

But how?

Talking about housing that’s affordable allows us to re-frame the discussion, and to introduce ideas about shared values. Housing that people who work in our community can afford, or housing for those who are vulnerable – the elderly or persons with special needs – who need a home.   

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Focus the conversation on the need for housing that’s affordable to people working jobs in the local economy.

If we align our conversations about housing affordability with beliefs and principles that we all hold in common – hard work, fairness, opportunity, caring for the less fortunate and vulnerable – we will be more likely to advance the conversation

Fostering Diverse Communities

Ultimately, our discussion should reflect the serious unmet needs of people for housing that’s affordable – not about the housing itself – and about our mutual goal of fostering economically and racially diverse communities.

Soon a very different tone in the conversation about housing that’s affordable could emerge, as we see mixed income development that is well designed, well managed and fitting into the fabric of the neighborhood. Its residents are office workers, baristas, bank tellers, hospital workers, plumbers, construction workers and public sector employees – people like us.

We should use all available tools to ensure there is housing that is affordable here in NoVa.

We should use all available tools to ensure there is housing that is affordable here in NoVa.

As our Northern Virginia region matures, and we plan the redevelopment of our aging inner suburbs – think Beauregard, Columbia Pike and Seven Corners and Route 1, as well as neighborhoods surrounding our Metro stations – we must use every tool in the toolbox that helps us create housing that’s affordable to a spectrum of incomes as a portion of any new residential development.

The next time you’re at a public meeting on development, try using the phrase “housing that’s affordable,” and see what happens.