Home prices have corrected in the wake of the housing bust, but those that have become most affordable aren’t typically in convenient locations, according to new research from the Urban Land Institute’s Terwilliger Center for Workforce Housing. The study, which highlights the intricacies of Washington, D.C.’s workforce housing and employment landscape, offers a snapshot of a larger problem plaguing many metro markets: the still-high cost of housing close to jobs.

In the nation’s capital, houses near employment centers and transit remain unaffordable to a majority of workers, according to research prepared for ULI by RCLCO, which examined for-sale and rental housing options near six major employment hubs. Researchers estimate the D.C. region is currently about 40,000 units short of meeting the needs of the two million households that earn 60% to 100% of the area's median income.

And those most likely to feel the pinch are households of three or more people, which make up about 40% of the D.C. area’s workforce. Unlike singles, who have an easier time finding affordable housing near jobs, larger families--which, researchers noted, are increasingly made up of one working parent with children and/or elderly live-in grandparents--struggle to find safe, appropriately sized housing within a reasonable distance of key employment cores.  This paucity, in turn, is perpetuating the “drive to qualify” trend that sends lower-income families to the suburban outskirts and increases their high commuting costs. 
“In high-cost markets, workers are being pushed far away from employment centers in search of housing they can afford, and which adequately meets the needs of their families,” noted J. Ronald Terwilliger, chairman of Trammell Crow Residential and founder of the ULI research center that bears his name. “This is adding to traffic congestion and sprawl, cutting into family time, and straining the economic and environmental well-being of our urban areas.”
That’s the bad news. 

The good news is that many developers and municipalities are finding innovative ways to build workforce housing near jobs in high-cost communities. Consider these projects, which claimed top honors in the Jack Kemp Workforce Housing Models of Excellence Awards, announced last week at ULI’s recent Fall meeting in San Francisco:

Miller Ranch 
Originally a working ranch in Eagle County, Colo., the site, which ASW Realty developed in partnership with the county, now includes a campus for Colorado Mountain College, a new high school, and a 30-acre residential development with 282 owner-occupied homes. Deed restrictions limit appreciation to 3% to 6% annually, resulting in home sale prices that are well below median average.

South City Lights 
For years, this 13-acre infill site in South San Francisco was passed over by other developers due to severe topographical constraints. Now it places workforce housing in immediate range of a major employment hub via a free BART shuttle. Working in partnership with CityView and the City of South San Francisco, Watt Communities secured entitlements for a density of 20 units per acre. The tradeoff: 70 for-sale units are reserved for families earning 80% to 120% of area median income. 

Casa del Maestro 
This 70-unit rental development on 3.5 acres provides affordable apartments specifically for teachers. It was masterminded by the Santa Clara Unified School District in partnership with Education Housing Partners, an affiliate of Thompson/Dorfman. Since its completion, the project has remained fully leased and has maintained a long waiting list. 
The Kalahari 
Located in central Harlem, this 249-unit, mixed-income condo project is made of up two 12-story buildings with 46,500 square feet of ground-floor commercial space. Developed jointly by L & M Development Partners and Full Spectrum of NY, it reserves half of its units for families earning up to 150% of the area's median income. It's built to LEED silver standards and generates 25% of its electricity from solar and wind sources.

Got an innovative and good-looking workforce housing project that's worthy of replication?  Send us photos and details.

Jenny Sullivan is a senior editor covering design and planning for BUILDER.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.