How the Development of Affordable Housing Benefits the Community

I’d like to start by letting everyone know that I used facts and figures from several studies and articles written about the need and benefits of developing affordable housing. The need for affordable housing is more necessary than ever, not only for those relying on this housing, but for neighborhoods that need the community benefits of affordable housing.

Nearly 19 million US households pay over half their income on housing, and hundreds of thousands more have no home at all. The scale of the housing crisis for low-income households is growing. As the average rental rates are increasing, the number of available low-cost units is shrinking. In 2010 the US had 5.1 million more low-income renters than affordable units to house them. There is a huge increase in demand for rental housing, and demand has reached its highest levels since the 1960s.

The increased demand for rental housing has caused rents to rise across the nation, leading to more low-income families having to spend most of their incomes on keeping a roof over their heads. A full-time worker earning the prevailing minimum wage cannot afford a modest two-bedroom apartment in any state, metropolitan area, or county in the United States. These households have little left to spend on basic needs, like food or medicine, and have no means to save for retirement or college. This is the definition of “housing poverty.”

Unaffordable rent can lead to undernourished children because, as sociologist Mathew Desmond put it, “the rents eat first.” They are also at high risk of falling behind on their rent, being evicted, and becoming homeless, which can set them back further by contributing to job losses and family separations. As Sherrod Brown (D-Oh), the newly installed chairman of Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, said, “We know several things about housing. That without affordable homes and safe neighborhoods, people don’t live as long, their medical care is inadequate, their children attend struggling schools, they don’t have nearby grocery stores with nutritious food options. In short, housing is the gateway to opportunity and to building a middle-class life.”

All the above information was a discussion on why affordable housing is needed for working families, but equally dire is the need for more affordable housing for seniors. As older adults age, they face declining incomes, increased medical costs, and housing that may not be designed to meet their needs. Housing is the largest expenditure in the typical budget of an age 65+ household, taking up to 35 percent of their budget, on average. They also spend almost three times more of their budget on health care compared to younger households. Approximately 40 percent of senior households (9 million) are very low income—earning an average income of $13,824. Of those households, seven in ten pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

Aside from the cost, housing poses another big concern for seniors: safety. One in three older adults fall each year, a leading cause for serious injury and death. Half of these falls occur at home because of poor lighting, tripping hazards, and a lack of grab bars. The Homeless Research Institute projects that the number of homeless people above the age of 62 will more than double between 2010 and 2050. Homelessness and housing instability amount seniors has major health consequences. Studies have found that unstably housed older adults (above the age of 50) visit the emergency room at nearly four times the rate of the general population of older adults, experience higher rates of geriatric health problems (such as falls and memory loss), and may even be at higher risk for premature death.

Now that I’ve elaborated on the need for affordable housing, I want to talk about the benefits of developing more affordable housing inventory. Investing in affordable housing strengthens our economy, creating jobs, boosting families’ incomes, and encouraging further development.  Each dollar invested in affordable housing infrastructure boosts local economies by leveraging public and private resources to lift resident earnings and local tax revenue and to support job creation and retention. In fact, studies have shown that building 100 affordable rental homes generates $11.7 million in local income, $2.2 million in taxes and other revenue for local governments, and 161 local jobs in the first year alone. In the US annually there are an average of 100,000 affordable housing units developed per year, so you do the math on the impact. Affordable housing development also benefits local businesses through increased patronage created by the sale of construction materials and new neighborhood customers. Numerous studies show that affordable housing has a neutral or positive effect on surrounding property values – more likely beneficial when it is attractively designed, well maintained, replaces blighted properties, and is located in strong, mixed-use communities. Like roads and bridges, affordable housing is a long-term asset that helps communities and families succeed. Without the burden of higher housing costs, families would be better able to move to areas with growing local economies where their wages and employment prospects may improve. Increasing and preserving the supply of affordable housing—especially in areas connected to good schools, well-paying jobs, health care, and transportation—will help more families climb the economic ladder and help communities meet their workforce needs. A recent study found that the shortage of affordable housing in major metropolitan areas costs the American economy about $2 trillion a year in lower wages and productivity.

A robust body of research has shown that access to affordable housing has broad, positive impacts on families, seniors, people with disabilities, and the economy. Evidence-based research has shown that when families have stable, decent, and accessible homes that they can afford, they are better able to find employment, achieve economic mobility, perform better in school, and maintain improved health. In addition, children who live in a stable, affordable homes enjoy better health and educational outcomes, greater access to economic opportunities, have better mental and physical well-being, and benefit from stronger communities. Research shows that increasing access to affordable housing is the most cost-effective strategy for reducing childhood poverty in the United States. Affordable housing can function as a “vaccine”—contributing to positive health outcomes by providing stability and freeing up resources for food and health-care expenditures for families and seniors. Studies have shown that having quality affordable housing promotes better mental and physical health, improved quality of life, and independence for low-income seniors. I submit that because of these facts on the need and the benefits of the development of affordable housing, we should redouble our efforts in the United States.

As we state in the LDG mission plan: “Everyone Deserves a Quality Place to Live”


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