THE AFFORDABLE HOUSING CRISIS SQUEEZING working-class families in the nation's largest metropolitan areas may finally be diffusing some of the NIMBY sentiment that led many communities to oppose building housing for low- and moderate-income households for at least a generation.

A recent survey by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) of 1,000 adults in the country's top 25 metro areas found that Americans now support more affordable housing in their communities.

According to the survey, 76 percent would be willing to support more affordable homes to purchase or rent in their communities; 72 percent support more affordable housing in their neighborhoods; 66 percent would support affordable housing on their street; and 63 percent were fine with affordable housing next door to their homes.

“The industry has set record sales in the past three years, but there is a downside,” says Walt McDonald, president of NAR.

“Inventories are shrinking, and demand is still high, which is putting pressure on prices,” McDonald says. “People are concerned as to whether their children and grandchildren will be able to live close to them,” he adds, pointing out that survey respondents ranked affordable housing third behind affordable health care and the economy on their priority list.

Forty percent of those surveyed worry that the cost of housing is getting so unaffordable they fear they will never be able to buy a home. Housing affordability has reached crisis proportions in states such as California, where the median single-family home price in the San Francisco Bay area now is hovering close to $600,000, according to NAR's first quarter 2004 numbers. Other regions experiencing price pressures include the New York metropolitan area and Boston, where the median house prices in the first quarter of 2004 were $370,000 and $347,000, respectively.

“We're very proud of the survey,” says Bobby Rayburn, the NAHB president and a strong voice for providing workforce housing for the nation's police, firefighters, teachers, and service workers. “It shows there's a real feeling for the issue ... but do I believe we're all the way there? No, I do not; in many communities, you still find NIMBYism.”

Rayburn says the NAHB will continue to lobby for workforce housing, encouraging communities to reduce large-lot zoning and to refrain from creating urban growth rings that drive up the prices of vacant land inside the ring, thus increasing housing costs across the board for service workers.

“The urban growth rings tend to push working families beyond the ring, or if they live inside the ring, the housing is substandard or doesn't meet the family's needs,” says Rayburn.

NAR's McDonald says that his trade group has launched a program in conjunction with the U.S. Conference of Mayors to help state and local Realtor associations form affordable housing task forces. Six programs are scheduled for this year; the first two were held in Memphis, Tenn., and Ft. Collins, Colo.

Both the NAR and the NAHB also support programs such as the Home-ownership Tax Credit, which, would give builders a tax credit of up to 50 percent of the cost of new construction or rehabilitation. The measure would provide affordable housing in distressed communities for low- and moderate-income households earning roughly less than 80 percent of a metro area's median income.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition and other low-income housing advocates support the tax credit, but they prefer to push for more affordable rental housing for the nation's poor. There's a chance that the homeowner-ship tax credit will be rolled into a small business/agricultural tax bill supported by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the Senate finance committee chairman, but political conventions cut the legislative session short this year, so there may not be enough time to get the tax credit through.