A slowdown of new home construction is sometimes cited as a reason behind high unemployment rates, but building a new house may not always be the best way to create jobs.
Emily Badger at The Atlantic Cities reports that redeveloping older homes actually produces more jobs than does building brand new houses:
This intuitively makes sense. Rehabilitating old buildings is more labor-intensive than new construction, since much of the cost of new construction goes literally to bricks and mortar. But we asked Heidi Garrett-Peltier, an economist with the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, for some data to back this up. She ran some estimates based on national 2009 data, the most recent numbers available. And it turns out that repairing existing residential buildings produces about 50 percent more jobs than building new ones.
It would seem that D.C. is prime for such job creation; more than half of the District’s houses were built before 1950. Plus, the D.C. wards with the most blighted and vacant properties — Wards 5, 7 and 8 — also have the city’s highest unemployment rates:
Source: DCRA, DOES
But rehabilitating older houses won’t necessarily reduce high unemployment in hard-hit wards:
- First, these communities would have to attract the investment needed to revamp blighted houses. This is already happening in neighborhoods such as historic Anacostia where young professionals are rehabbing old homes, but it’s occurring on a small scale.
- Redevelopment may create jobs, but it doesn’t mean locals will be hired for them, as shown by some existing building projects. Take the $3.4 billion redevelopment of St. Elizabeths in Ward 8, where about 20 percent of construction workers are D.C. residents.
- Even if locals are hired for redevelopment jobs, construction work is temporary.
Pushing for rehabilitating older homes rather than building brand new ones could be one tactic in fighting D.C.’s unemployment, but it can’t be the only one.