Workforce. It’s a word that many of us have become all too familiar with lately.
While we hear a lot these days about the pandemic-associated impacts — burnout, the retirements, and those who are simply leaving the profession altogether — there’s another side of this challenge that won’t be fixed by hiring more nurses or training more doctors. Because no matter how strong the workforce is, if employees can’t afford a home in their community, they may likely look elsewhere for a job or be relegated to long commutes.
The lack of housing, and in particular, affordable housing — not just in San Diego County, but throughout the state — means that many employees cannot afford to live where they work. Keeping residents in the communities in which they work is key — much like hospitals, housing is the foundation cornerstone of a healthy community. It’s no secret that thousands of San Diego County workers commute daily from Riverside County, which contributes significantly to quality-of-life issues. A February 2020 study found that more than 53,000 people spent an average of two hours per car per commute and traveled an extra 1.3 billion miles per year.
In San Diego County — where the median price of an existing, single-family home was $888,000 in February, up from $765,000 one year ago, according to a recent report from the California Association of Realtors — providing long-term housing security is vital to protecting our workforce. To do this, we must start to think differently if we are to be able to continue to recruit and retain essential workers. We must do all we can to enable our essential workers to be able to live where they work.
Both public and private agencies have a role to play in addressing the problem, though it won’t be fixed overnight. Last summer, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria announced a package of initiatives aimed at producing more homes across the city that residents of all income levels can afford. In addition, a middle-income housing working group of resident volunteers will formulate and evaluate ways to incentivize building more housing for families earning 80% to 120% of the area median income. Privately, there are companies that are also focused on the “middle-income earners” helping employees — in professionals such as physicians, nurses, and staff in particular — by providing home-buying support and education in high-cost metro areas.
These programs and initiatives are a great start, but more must be done. Everything must be on the table when it comes to this “other” workforce issue. It’s vital to the future of the health care workforce, not just in our region but throughout the state, to take action on housing not only for those experiencing homelessness and low-income groups but for our essential workers, too.