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Economy

How Affordable Housing Can Improve the American Economy

Building more affordable housing units in the metros that are centers of innovation will increase demand for the wares that fill houses, and increase productivity.
In Miami, around 45 percent of households are cost-burdened, meaning residents spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent.
In Miami, around 45 percent of households are cost-burdened, meaning residents spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent.Carlos Barria/Reuters

Housing is a big part of America’s story of innovation, productivity, and economic growth. For much of the industrial 20th century, housing helped to drive the economy by stimulating demand. Building more housing—especially in the suburbs—stoked the demand for more cars, washing machines, and other durable goods from America’s factories, creating good jobs for American workers and setting in motion a virtuous circle of economic growth.

But housing plays a very different role in today’s knowledge economy, where innovation and growth stimulate the clustering of knowledge, talent, and ideas. As a growing chorus of economists point out, the problem today is that we do not have enough housing—especially affordable housing—in the expensive and productive locations that drive the economy. The economic consequences often mean unskilled workers are unable to access good jobs in these cities, which costs the economy a huge amount in lost productivity.