Paying the rent for a decent home is not just a challenge for low-income families. As housing affordability increasingly creates stress on middle-income families, local governments, philanthropies, and even employers are debating new strategies to address the problem.

In the past year, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and the Chan-Zuckerburg Initiative have pledged contributions ranging from $500 million to $1 billion to help build more middle-income housing in their respective backyards (literally for Google, which is proposing to convert some of its Mountain View campus to housing).

The District of Columbia’s Mayor, Muriel Bowser, proposed a $20 million Workforce Housing Fund to help subsidize housing for “teachers, police officers, janitors, [and] social workers”, typical middle-income occupations.

In this brief, we discuss the rationale for housing subsidies targeted to middle-income families, review past examples of policies referred to as “workforce housing”, and discuss some political and economic implications of these policies.

The term “workforce housing” is most often used to indicate a program targeted at households that earn too much to qualify for traditional affordable housing subsidies. The term “workforce” housing is not only imprecise, it is controversial: many poor households who receive federal housing subsidies are employed, so why are those subsidies not considered “workforce” housing? As we discuss below, while “middle-income housing” would be more precise language, it raises some politically awkward questions.

There is a specific history of housing assistance for certain public-sector employees, stemming in part from local government requirements that those workers live within their employing political jurisdiction.

Read the full article about workforce housing and middle-income subsidies by Tiffany Ford and Jenny Schuetz at Brookings.