Should we fix the housing problem as a way to help people find work?

Part of the fun of doing research is when you find things you haven’t really considered before. Here’s one of them: it turns out housing costs have dramatically escalated in some areas in recent years. Only 29% of households in San Francisco can afford to purchase a house, compared to 56% of households across the U.S. The median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment is ~$3,550 - almost twice the national median.

Why is that a problem for the future of work? Because we know that most new jobs are going to be created in the large cities of the world, and not in rural areas or sleepy towns. Many of those who will work in those places will enjoy lucrative salaries and social conditions. The rest, though, will have a hard time making do.

So what do you think? Should we fix the housing problem, as a way to help the workers of the future? Is that even something we can do?

Here’s an amusing take by The Onion on this phenomenon -

This question overlaps a bit with the work Charter Communities is doing, so I’d like to invite some of the experts who joined the community to advise on that prize design to get involved in this discussion as well: @prernakuhad, @sglaude1, @Greenduck and @Cambias, please feel free to share your thoughts!

My own view is that we need to become way more comfortable with people working from home.

I can speak from personal experience, and I’m glad to have an employer who trusts me to do a good job, even though they can’t monitor my day-to-day work. Many bosses aren’t like that. A lot of office jobs could be done remotely, from home or from a shared workplace in a different city, yet most employers insist on their workers coming into the office from 9 to 5 every day.

It contributes to the housing crisis you describe, @Roey. It’s bad for the environment (all that commuting) And it’s bad for people’s health. Nobody can be at peak efficiency for 8 hours straight. Better to work a few hours, take a long break, have lunch, walk the dog, pick up the kids from school and work a bit more.

@Roey My view on this, is we ned to think that the problem of expensive housing comes fro the centralization, I believe we need to decentralize work and opportunities, so in order to be more connected the future of work is also remote work! enabling the rising u for smaller communities as well!

Affordable housing is an issue which integrates the challenges of stabilizing the poor so they can receive services and training to enable their economic possibilities, city management design to enhance revenue for the city, transportation enhancement so people can get to work without oppressive commutes and the decentralization of the workforce mentioned in some of the other comments here.

A commitment to affordable housing ensures diverse communities whereas simply letting market forces take over will result in cities being populated by the very rich who can afford and the very poor whose Housing is subsidized

I see a mix of answers to the question.And the topmost, simple, all encompassing answer is “yes”. With detail below…

  1. location - we need density in cities and we need transit options as well as bikes/walking/personal powered transit. So any housing can help with job access if there is access to more jobs. Affordable housing design needs to look beyond the walls to the community and access resources.
  2. process - is seems to me the design efforts should be defined by the full community that we are serving so we can get to all these co-benefits. There is work in that as well - for food providers for big meetings, for planners, for greeters at the door. Workforce awareness must be ingrained into the process.
  3. workforce support - the building and maintenance of the buildings and surrounding will create jobs. By focusing on healthy and local materials, we will increase the local access to more jobs and protect the workers from toxins that would adversely affect their health.

All of these things should be part of our discussions not only to make this a superior (and usable) project, but to increase the awareness of these connections in the minds of everyone we work with or who reads the papers/plans/websites.

Thanks, @Greenduck! I think these are all fair and excellent points, but I wonder about,

How do you ensure community involvement when you’re planning a new neighborhood and there isn’t (much) of a community yet?

And isn’t there a risk that only people who are worried about development show up? NIMBYs and businesses that want to protect themselves from competition?

I think that availability of affordable housing would definitely decrease gentrification and would help with some aspects of the future of work. Cities around the US are beginning to tackle some of this through practices such as inclusionary zoning, creation of workforce housing, mandatory housing affordability, etc. However, these are adding a handful of units to cities that are desperately in need of more affordable and deeply affordable housing.

Imagine a world where these practices completely alleviated the problem of housing affordability and insecurity. Would the some of the core challenges of the future of work be changed? Would the skills gap still exist? Would automation still be advancing at a rate where jobs are changing rapidly?

I’m not arguing that it’s not important. As my background is in housing and homelessness it’s quite the opposite. However, it seems as though the aspects of the future of work are far beyond just housing affordability.

If you plan a “new community” without co-creation, it has a higher chance of failure. We (from the outside) can’t assume we know what is needed, or even what the real issues are. Nothing About Me, Without Me, is For Me | 2bgreener

A series of meetings with topics and discussions are important. It’s a combination of public outreach, and really specific invitations to ensure may perspectives are included. NIMBY is always an issue and a good facilitator can learn from that interaction, and embrace the concerns of the person…and the goal is to learn enough to not only address the concerns, but to help that person become an advocate for the work at hand. Often once a person or group sees and experiences that their concerns are fully incorporated into the process, they feel less threatened.

And this information gathering and co-creation is not only on the needs of the people, but on aspects of local specificity (environment, economy, weather patterns, food sources, cultural impacts, job access, daycare needs, transit…) Much of this information can be discovered by reaching out to community NFPs in local areas or in the area intended for the project.

So maybe for an xprize discussion, we need a toolkit for the process, as much as a design framework.

@LisaHomesFund, @alexadlp, @annedodge, I know you joined our community to advise on the Charter Communities Prize Design, but I thought you might be interested in this discussion as well, which is related to our Future of Work Prize. (Info about it here.)

To what extent is the housing situation in the US tied to the future of work? How can we address it - from the perspective of work?

I’ll actually redirect this discussion to Housing and Relocation.

We’re now officially considering this a problem relevant to the future of work and asking the community:

  • What emerging solutions are being pioneered by companies and governments to deal with it?
  • Why are these solutions nor adequate or not working? (Unless they are!)

Please click here to share your views!

Working from home is basically the “default” for most of human history. Even a magnate like Cosimo de Medici had the offices and storerooms of his bank built into his home. Some spaces in his house were public, some were private, but there was no distinction between “work” and “home.”

I suspect that as it becomes more possible, more people will simply drift back to that state. It has so many advantages. My own household is pretty much that way already. As long as your work doesn’t rely on a large centralized plant, it seems like the ideal arrangement, so I suspect little persuasion will be needed to promote it, just the removal of obstacles.

(We will probably have to wait for the managers and CEOs whose careers began before the 1990s to retire before it can really become widespread in America.)

@Cambias ,
It may be that working from home is indeed the “default” through most of human history. I’m not sure about it, but let’s accept this as true for now. Still, it doesn’t mean that working from home is as efficient
as working from the office is.

Efficiency depends on what output you measure. I’m not trying to be contentious here. I think it’s important to have clear definitions, especially of the goals of a project. Are we trying to maximize widgets sold per dollar invested? Sure, a centralized plant probably works better. (Although the rise of “just-in-time” production cuts into a lot of the beneficial effects of scale and centralization.)

So: what goals are we trying to achieve?

@Cambias
Good question. I would say that as it applies to work, we’re looking to increase productivity in both the short-term and the long-term.