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Assessing the Need, Analyzing the Challenges, Identifying the Opportunities

Barry Zigas (left), director of housing policy for the Consumer Federation of America, and Donna E. Shalala, president of the University of Miami, held a candid conversation on the future roles of the public and private sectors in workforce housing during the conference's keynote session.

To address the nation’s growing need for workforce housing, U.S. policy makers need to adopt a broader perspective, according to Barry Zigas, director of housing policy for the Consumer Federation of America and a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center's Housing Commission.

“We should consider workforce housing as investment in infrastructure, like transit, schools and hospitals,” said Zigas, who was the keynote speaker at the University of Miami’s October 4 conference, “Workforce Housing in the New Economy: Looking Forward for South Florida's Employers and Employees.“ The conference, held at PortMiami, was hosted by UM’s School of Business Administration, School of Architecture, and Office of Civic and Community Engagement.

"We're getting fresh information detailing exactly the challenges facing workforce housing development," said attendee Ron Shuffield, president of EWM Realtors in Coral Gables. “Housing prices are going up now, and we are going to need more workforce housing so service providers won't be frozen out of the market again.”

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Several conference panelists agreed that reframing the discussion on workforce housing is necessary, since federal policymakers are grappling with “big picture” financial issues, like the current tax structure and national debt.  

“With lack of new construction, rising prices and limited credit availability, we have a train wreck coming,” said former U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, who moderated one of the conference panels. “But until we fix the national debt problem, we’ll be hard pressed to deal with housing.”

On the other hand, private developers, nonprofit organizations and municipal housing authorities are finding innovative approaches to building new projects for renters and owners. They are also converting foreclosed and abandoned properties into workforce housing.

Ultimately, investing in affordable homes for the nation’s teachers, nurses, police officers and other service workers contributes to the vitality and sustainability of communities with high housing costs, Zigas said. “Home ownership also leads to better living conditions for working families, stronger personal finances and greater employment opportunities. Conference sponsors included the Kislak Organization, Holliday Fenoglio Fowler and the Housing Finance Authority of Miami-Dade County.

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