‘Affordability’ is a dirty word in real estate. It’s time for that to change

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Amidst a nationwide inventory shortage, escalating interest rates causing buyers to hesitate, and real estate agents intensifying their prospecting endeavors, a longstanding and persistent housing crisis has been quietly looming for at least the past 50 years. This crisis revolves around the dire need for affordable housing, an issue that has only worsened with time.

Real estate professionals in the affordable housing sector, including myself, have been tirelessly striving to expand inventory, enhance financing options, and unearth opportunities for low- to moderate-income clients. Astonishingly, more than 75 percent of homes on the market are beyond the financial reach of middle-class buyers.

The last instance that I can find when housing costs were deemed optimally affordable dates back to the 1960s. Since then, housing expenses have experienced a tumultuous ascent, particularly for working individuals and families across the United States, including my local market in Nevada.

Presently, the shortage of affordable units in Nevada stands somewhere around 84,000-plus. That leaves approximately 100 families anxiously waiting for every two units developed or acquired.

Buyer’s agent

I’ve worked in many facets of the real estate industry for 18 years now, and it was only when I tried my hand at the role of buyer’s agent that I became the most frustrated. Empowered by my passion for advocacy and activism, nurtured through volunteer efforts at local community centers, I encountered individuals fervently pursuing the American dream of owning a home.

Year after year, I conversed with prospective buyers whose financial limitations ultimately led to disqualification. My initial enthusiasm for serving the community and facilitating homeownership eventually waned.

My willingness to assist and embrace challenges was overshadowed by the reality of helping those burdened by low to moderate incomes and substantial debt. Seeking guidance from peers proved fruitless, as the advice was to simply “dump them” and move on from those who didn’t qualify. This was advice I found unacceptable.

While it was impractical to devote endless hours to individuals who couldn’t purchase homes, I felt compelled to connect them with potential resources for their path to financial recovery. I have since discovered like-minded agents who had similar sentiments. These agents remained silent, convinced that no viable solutions existed. But there’s always something we can do.

Good neighbors

Enter NeighborWorks America and Neighborhood Housing Services of Southern Nevada (NHSSN). My relentless search for avenues to direct people toward financial guidance led me to NHSSN. NHSSN is a Las Vegas-based nonprofit laser-focused on constructing affordable housing and providing financial counseling to future homebuyers, struggling current homeowners, and those in need of general financial direction.

NHSSN, a charter member of NeighborWorks America, is part of a nationwide coalition consisting of nearly 250 network organizations across all states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. These entities, including NHSSN, serve as the driving force behind attainable housing solutions. Remarkably, NeighborWorks America’s inception traces back to 1968, and NHSSN has been aiding Southern Nevadans since 1991.

The more I got involved with NHSSN, the more I noticed the stigma surrounding affordable housing. Maybe you’ve already thought about that a few times while reading this article. The mere mention of the phrase “affordable housing” often elicits dirty looks.

Politicians snarl, and neighbors start to create nasty cardboard signs to march with at City Hall. Society has misguidedly aligned the term with homelessness, poverty, slums and crime. 

Affordable housing, contrary to these misconceptions, represents our teenagers working minimum wage jobs to secure their first apartments. It’s the single mom or dad who is working themselves to the bone to provide a roof over their family’s heads.

It’s the overwhelming number of families who may have one or even two incomes but now find themselves taking care of their disabled siblings, aging parents and sometimes their grandparents. Affordable housing is often you and me, everyday people.

Contrary to popular belief, the presence of affordable housing does not contribute to increased crime rates; instead, it fosters community stability by retaining existing residents. The notion that affordable housing attracts crime is unsubstantiated by evidence.

Affordable housing, serving as an instrument of economic development, frequently contributes to diminished crime rates. Individuals who have strived tirelessly to secure a home are inherently motivated to safeguard it, thus reducing the likelihood of jeopardizing their newfound stability.

I’ve seen it work. I’ve now been with NHSSN for two years, first as a board member and now as the marketing manager. It became such a passion of mine that it turned into one of my full-time jobs to get the word out about this local organization and what NeighborWorks America is doing.

In my short time with the non-profit, I have seen them rehabilitate apartment complexes and build the first phase of a 120-unit senior living community near downtown Las Vegas. Their work to revitalize our Historic Westside has kicked off a local city plan that is bringing updated infrastructure to the area.

This movement will only continue to blossom throughout the years as more and more developers, laborers and activists get involved. 

My mission

My personal mission has included acquainting Realtors with the realm of affordable housing. Frequently, the question is, “What’s in it for me?”

NHSSN unveils opportunities for low- to moderate-income clients with assistance that aids in addressing credit issues, overcoming downpayment challenges and positioning people for genuine prequalification. The result is a bona fide buyer, likely to return and refer family and friends due to the help you connected them with.

Yes, this is more work. No, it doesn’t equate to selling luxurious condos on the Las Vegas Strip or opulent Beverly Hills mansions. Nonetheless, Realtors are entrusted with serving all individuals, regardless of their qualified price point. Right?

The idea that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can one day own your own home is the cornerstone of the American dream. It’s a promise that has drawn millions to our country.

Unfortunately, that dream has become out of reach over several generations and only continues to become even harder to achieve for our citizens. Abandoning this dream is untenable, just as turning away individuals seeking guidance to realize it is unjust.

I wholeheartedly urge you to engage with your community, discover your passion, and volunteer to aid fellow humans in meaningful ways. Resources dedicated to housing and financial counseling are available in every state; NeighborWorks America has proven that.

As Realtors we often boast that education and resources are our jam, so this should be another feather in our caps when working with clients. I implore you to explore local avenues for support and involvement, to be well-advised and, hopefully, to help others. I think that sounds like something that should appeal to all Realtors.

Zak Shellhammer is a broker, coach and consultant. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Instagram

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