Can the dream be revived? At what point does a problem become a crisis? In the case of the housing affordability crisis, it seems easy to identify: When a biomedical engineer earning $98,000 easily qualifies for one of the affordable housing units in a townhouse community in South San Francisco. The gap between the housing haves and have-nots continues to widen at an alarming pace, and the hurdles have gotten higher, with professionals with advanced degrees joining the ranks of those struggling to find homes they can afford.

The problem isn't limited to land-strapped locales such as the San Francisco Bay area. Today, fewer than 21 percent of homes in places such as Reno, Nev., Bend, Ore., Ocean City, N.J., and St. George, Utah, are attainable for families earning the local median income, according to NAHB data. In hot spots such as Los Angeles, San Diego, and White Plains, N.Y., that number drops below 5 percent.

Salary scales, land prices, and cost-of-living indices vary from place to place, meaning that affordability is a relative term that fluctuates by zip code. But remove the hard numbers from the axes, and the graphs all paint the same dire picture. The first-time buyers builders once counted on as a sure thing in the move-up equation are fast becoming an endangered species. That's bad news for builders' bottom lines, not to mention the nation's long-term economic survival.

In this special report, Builder examines the systemic causes of the affordable housing crisis—from legislation to economics to land use—and highlights innovators who are finding new ways to give average citizens a place to call home.

HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE: Jose and Erika Reyes were on the verge of becoming super-commuters, spending  hours a day on Southern California's crowded freeways. Among Erika's biggest  heartaches was telling her 12-year-old son that no one would be able to  take him to baseball practice. Then they heard about The Boulevard, a community  of market-rate, single-family homes and affordable townhomes.
HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE: Jose and Erika Reyes were on the verge of becoming super-commuters, spending hours a day on Southern California's crowded freeways. Among Erika's biggest heartaches was telling her 12-year-old son that no one would be able to take him to baseball practice. Then they heard about The Boulevard, a community of market-rate, single-family homes and affordable townhomes.

Live. Work. Stay.
Rising home prices have turned the affordable housing crisis into a middle-class problem and have made municipal planners more receptive to projects that keep workers from moving elsewhere.

The Space Between
Sprawl has long been reviled as an enemy of the environment. Is it also fueling the affordable housing crisis?

Pay Dirt
All affordable housing begins with controlling the cost of land, and unexpected funding sources can help keep those costs down.

When Builders Buy In
Under the right conditions, home builders will gladly work closely with communities to build affordable housing.

Crunching the Numbers
A wide variety of programs are available to assist low-income buyers.

Affordable By Design
Architecture, site planning, and construction pro formas can make or break the bottom line.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Francisco, CA, Los Angeles, CA, Bend, OR.