Where will they live?

Even though the Puget Sound region has been largely able to resist the effect of the national slowdown caused by higher prices and shaky financial markets, there are signs that the fever has begun to seep in. Real estate markets are losing strength. A loaf of bread costs $3, and energy costs loom large. Prices at the pump continue to climb. Electricity and natural gas prices are also higher. Those prices have crept up - a few percent here, a cost adjustment there - adding up to higher utility bills.

The City of Mercer Island is wisely preparing for a possible slowdown in tax receipt revenue. Construction in the Town Center will slow as major projects are completed and fewer developments are in the works. Tax revenues from the sale of homes and condos are also expected to decline.

And what about housing?

Will people who work at schools, hospitals and supermarkets be able to live near where they work?

Homeownership still remains far out of reach for the majority of workers. A study called "Paycheck to Paycheck: Wages and the Cost of Housing in America" looked at how the incomes of key workers compare to housing costs. The study, released in January, measures housing costs in 201 United States metropolitan areas with the wages earned by workers in 60 occupations, including the five highest growth occupations. The Center for Housing Policy, the research affiliate of the National Housing Conference (NHC), released the study.

Using median annual income, the NHC concluded homeownership is unaffordable for all five categories in occupations that are growing fastest - registered nurses, retail salespersons, customer service representatives, food preparation workers and office clerks - in the majority of the 201 metro areas in the study.

Registered nurses, who have relatively higher salaries than many workers, are unable to purchase a median-priced home in 108 of the markets, including Bremerton, Olympia, Seattle and Tacoma, which were included in the study. A nurse in Seattle needs an additional $57,379 in income to purchase a house; in Olympia, the shortfall equals $23,702. The report also concluded that retail salespersons and food preparation workers were priced out of all 201 markets.

In our region, those looking for affordable housing often have to live further away from their workplace, adding to traffic congestion, gas consumption and lowering productivity for business. All contrary to our renewed forcus on the environment.

These are sobering findings for workers, businesses and consumers - all of us.

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