Johnson City is facing a workforce housing crisis. Home sale prices are upwards of $250,000 and rent is $1,000+ per month. People working at restaurants, retail shops, wineries and other local businesses or in trades can not afford to live here.
For example, LBJ National Park, which currently serves 140,000 visitors per year, is unable to fill all its 40 staff positions. Not because of a lack of qualified candidates willing to relocate to Johnson City, but because of the cost of living, which is driven primarily by housing costs.
To rent a two-bedroom house in Johnson City for $1,200 per month without exceeding 30 percent of your wages for housing, you need to make $24.54 per hour for 40 hours per week. Jobs here typically pay $10-$15 per hour.
This problem affects more than just working folks looking for housing and business owners. It affects everyone with children in our school district. Johnson City Independent School District is considered a wealthy school district. With declining school population, we must give a portion of our property taxes to the state, to the tune of $2.1 million for the coming school year. If school attendance was growing, we could keep more to improve our schools.
Lack of workforce housing affects anyone who wants to see our town prosper. Whether it is opportunities for our high school graduates or young families looking to build a life and raise their children, the housing shortage is preventing them from making Johnson City their home.
But, there is another side to this problem. Let’s take a look at wage stagnation. This phenomenon has occurred in the United States since the 1970s and was exacerbated by the Great Recession of 2008. Low-wage workers earn 5 percent less than they did in 1979 (adjusted for inflation), while middle class workers earn only 6 percent more. Those with very high wages saw their pay rise 41 percent.
In 1965, CEO pay was about 20 times that of a typical worker. Today, it is 300 times.
Think it’s because workers today aren’t as productive as workers back then? Not true. Productivity has risen dramatically. If the minimum wage had kept up with growth in American worker productivity, it would be $18 per hour today.
What can we do about these problems?
Consider serving on the Johnson City Planning and Zoning Commission. The Commission currently has two openings. You do not have to reside in the city to serve. Also, as a community, let’s agree that we need multi-family housing, so the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council can make zoning decisions that help us solve this problem.
Regarding wage stagnation, Republican lawmakers aren’t telling the truth about this. One example: our Congressman Lamar Smith and Senator Ted Cruz say last year’s tax cuts are the solution. But most of the cuts benefit the wealthy, not you or Blanco County. In November, let’s elect the Democratic slate of candidates to fight for us.