EVERYONE KNOWS THE ADVANTAGES OF homeownership: strong roots, connection to the community, pride of ownership, and—possibly most important—home equity. And now 68 percent of American families—an all-time high—are enjoying these benefits. But while we as a nation can take pride in our outstanding homeownership rate, we also must recognize that many families are struggling to find housing that meets their needs.

The statistics are sobering. Millions of the nation's working families spend more than half of their income on housing or live in seriously substandard conditions. These aren't just statistics. This means that millions of Americans struggle to find an adequate living environment. It means that millions of mothers and fathers worry daily about providing adequate shelter for their children.

A recent study by the National Housing Conference (NHC) found that the median income of the nation's elementary school teachers, police officers, licensed practical nurses, retail salespersons, and janitors is below the $50,000 that is needed to qualify for a $156,000 home—the current median price of a home in the United States.

Even more telling: Families dependent solely on the income of a janitor or retail salesperson pay more than 30 percent of their income—the upper limit of affordability—for a two-bedroom apartment in the nation's 60 largest metropolitan areas. And in markets as diverse as Boston, Dallas, and West Palm Beach, Fla., renting an apartment often requires more than 30 percent of a household income for two-income families.

The statistics point to a chronic affordability problem. It is absolutely essential that our communities take the steps necessary to ensure an adequate supply of housing that is affordable to working families.

More and more, this issue is getting attention from the media, policy makers, and the general public. Indeed, a recent survey indicated that the public views the cost of housing as second only to health care as an issue that needs to be addressed by policy makers.

The NAHB is doing its part to bring attention to this issue. It is working with Fannie Mae in Atlanta to develop a set of workforce housing “best practices” that can serve as models for other communities. It is also working in concert with Freddie Mac on a workforce-housing symposium to be held Dec. 8 in Washington, D.C., and to bring recognition to new developments that help address the shortage of housing for working families, the NAHB is sponsoring the Innovations in Workforce Housing Awards.

The nation's big builders are doing their part to address the work-force housing shortage. They show their leadership through the volume of homes they produce that are affordable to moderate-income families. Reflecting this dedication is the fact that approximately 30 percent of homes produced by the nation's big builders are purchased by first-time home buyers.

Many high-production builders have become workforce-housing innovators. The willingness to use new ideas and technologies—from community design to home architecture to use of green building techniques—enables these builders to meet market needs and keep costs down. Whether it's urban infill housing or traditional suburban development, big builders are contributing to the stock of housing that is affordable to working families.

Our cities and towns need housing that is affordable for teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public servants, as well as people working in the service and retail industries. These are the people who teach our children, keep our streets safe, and provide the services we depend on. Many of these people must endure long commutes to work. Others spend far too much of their incomes on housing. And still others live in homes that simply do not meet their needs or the needs of their familes. These working people are an important part of our nation's social fabric. A community suffers when the people who provide its essential services go home to another city or town at the end of the day.