We All Need Affordable Housing
A house is not just a building. It is a home—a place that shelters, protects and nurtures its occupants. It supports their personal and professional development and offers a safe harbor.
Affordable housing is not a handout. It is a necessity. For years, the middle class has been squeezed as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. At the same time, the cost to rent or purchase housing has become less affordable for millions of Americans.
Millennials, for example, are facing a difficult landscape. Unable to find jobs after college graduation, many must live with their parents and depend on them rather than be self-sufficient. Seniors and disabled people on fixed incomes, too, are struggling to find affordable housing. And the poor often have nowhere to go but run-down buildings and crowded shelters.
More Than Housing
Affordable housing improves the quality of life of residents by leading to better health, adequate jobs, financial stability, security, and population diversity. The effects of affordable housing on residents are profound and capable of transforming communities, especially when the projects are designed with an urban plan in mind.
- Affordable, quality housing attracts teachers, cops, nurses, firefighters, and other key service providers to the community.
- Transportation options enable residents to search and find jobs in areas accessible to them, providing job security, improving their financial status and eliminating the need for cars.
- Commercial spaces give access to essential products and services as well as employment opportunities.
- Community centers bring residents together, offer entertainment, help improve their education and skills through classes on useful subjects such as computers, communications, trades and arts, and provide other valuable services.
- Walkable complexes promote interaction among residents and strengthen community ties.
An affordable housing development that incorporates such elements improves residents’ circumstances and empowers them with the tools they need to help themselves, succeed in their endeavors and become productive members of society.
As designers and developers, we need to provide options that address people’s needs and that allow them to improve themselves and their circumstances.
Affordable Housing in Crisis
Affordable housing is housing that costs 30 percent or less of one’s income. Over the past decade, the availability of affordable housing has plummeted.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, nowhere in the U.S. can a family afford a modest two-bedroom apartment on a minimum wage income. In 2006, nearly half of all renters spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing, while a quarter of all renters (about nine million) spent more than 50 percent of their income on housing. By 2009, the percentage of renters paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing had reached 52 percent.
Research by the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies and Enterprise Community Partners estimates that the number of households spending 50 percent or more of their income on rent will increase at least 11 percent from 11.8 million in 2015 to 13.1 million by 2025.
The report, “Projecting Trends in Severely Cost-Burdened Renters: 2015-2025,” predicts a growing affordability crisis especially among seniors, Hispanics, and single-person households. Even if housing and income trends turn more favorable, demographic forces will exert continued upward pressure on the number of severely cost-burdened renters, according to the report.
Another report, “An Opportunity Agenda for Renters by the Center for American Progress” by the Center for American Progress, found that the average low-income, severely burdened renter household has approximately $15 per day to budget for food, transportation, healthcare and other day-to-day necessities, while low-income renters who live in affordable housing are able to spend two-thirds more on food, double the amount on healthcare and nearly triple the amount on transportation.
The housing market collapse that began in 2007 has triggered a wave of foreclosures and evictions that has devastated families and entire neighborhoods, decreased property values, increased crime, and reduced job stability and employment opportunities. These circumstances have a long-term negative impact on the health and well-being of people, the community, and the economy.
Negative Impact of Unaffordable Housing
The lack of affordable housing has numerous negative effects on individuals, families, communities and entire countries, including
- Substandard housing
- High rents
- Displaced families
- Racial segregation
- Rising crime rates
- Increased poverty
- Adverse health effects
- Mental health issues
- Developmental delays
- Poor academic performance
Accessibility to quality affordable housing, on the other hand, has been shown to improve
- Health and well-being
- Quality of education
- Employment opportunities
- Personal relationships
- Security and financial outcomes
When housing is affordable, people can spend more energy and resources on healthcare, nutrition, education, day care, transportation and other important products and services.
5 Reasons Why We Need Affordable Housing
People who live in affordable housing are more likely to succeed socially, academically and professionally. Affordable housing contributes to their well-being in several ways:
1. It’s Healthy
Studies show that quality affordable housing has multiple positive effects on people’s health and well-being by
- Freeing up financial resources for healthcare and nutritious food
- Providing residential stability
- Allowing families to manage their day-to-day lives
- Relieving stress and improving mental health
- Reducing health risks associated with poor quality housing
- Facilitating ongoing delivery of healthcare services
- Decreasing exposure to infectious diseases
- Promoting social networks and community involvement
- Fostering greater self-esteem through home ownership
- Increasing a sense of security
In contrast, lack of affordable housing and homelessness can worsen physical and mental illness, expose residents to health hazards (such as lead paint, unsanitary conditions, overcrowding, infectious diseases, poor air quality, toxins, and allergens), and prevent chronic medical conditions from being treated. The United Nations estimates that 10 million people worldwide die each year throughout from conditions related to substandard housing.
2. It’s Good for Kids
There is no question that stable, affordable housing is critical for children’s health and well-being.
A three-year study by Habitat for Humanity found that the quality of housing—including structural or maintenance deficiencies such as insect or rodent infestations, exposed wiring and peeling paint, lack of light, heat or hot water—is the most important aspect of housing for children and families.
“When families lived in poor quality housing, parents experienced more psychological stress, and children showed elevated levels of emotional problems, including symptoms of depression and anxiety, and elevated behavior problems, like aggression, lying, and deceitfulness,” Habitat for Humanity reported, noting that children who move often from home to home exhibit poorer emotional and behavioral health.
A Boston College study found that poor housing quality and residential instability are the strongest predictors of behavioral problems among low-income children, the National Low Income Housing Coalition reported. “Children experiencing cumulative housing instability or exposed to leaking roofs, broken windows, rodents, peeling paint, non-functioning heaters, or unclean environments experienced greater emotional and behavioral problems,” according to the study.
Research by John Hopkins University shows that children living in households that spend about 30 percent of income on housing have better intellectual and cognitive abilities that children living in households spending 50 percent of income on housing and those spending only 20 percent. In other words, paying too much or too little for housing negatively affects children’s cognitive development.
3. It Builds Sustainable Communities
Well-designed affordable housing developments can have a substantial positive impact on the surrounding communities, particularly in urban environments. Affordable housing uplifts residents, encourages social connections, reduces overcrowding, increases adjacent property values, attracts businesses and jobs, and lowers crime rates.
Developers, designers, housing organizations and community advocates can work together to create vibrant communities in affordable housing developments. Architects have the ability to design projects that support the physical, mental and social well-being of the people who live and work in those spaces while providing innovative solutions to existing and potential problems.
4. It Creates Jobs
Where people live influences where they work and how much money they make. Affordable housing development generates employment opportunities for the community and stimulates the local economy in the following ways:
- Creating short-term and long-term jobs
- Attracting employers and employees
- Boosting consumer spending
- Generating tax revenue for state and local governments
- Increasing job security by providing stable housing
- Offering better transportation options
- Lowering the risk of evictions and foreclosures
- Supporting social networks that lead to job opportunities
A study by the New York State Association for Affordable Housing found that affordable housing projects created nearly 330,000 jobs in New York between 2011 and 2015, about 47,000 of them permanent. Most of the jobs were in the areas of construction, architecture, engineering, property management, maintenance, and retail.
5. It Promotes Diversity
Affordable housing developments promote diversity by creating communities that unite people of different socio-economic, educational, professional and cultural backgrounds.
Cities that lack affordable housing frequently become segregated and fail to meet the needs of families living under a variety of circumstances, leading to higher poverty rates and severe distress in poor, segregated neighborhoods.
Diverse communities that increase exposure and interaction between people of different ethnic backgrounds tend to reduce racial tension and discrimination while increasing culture sensitivity, fairness, and tolerance.
Affordable housing development is extremely important for millions of people throughout the world. When individuals and families have access to stable, quality affordable housing, they can become part of a diverse community, find and keep jobs, lead healthier lives and take better care of their children.
Housing, we know, is much more than just having a roof over one’s head. The most important thing affordable housing provides is hope and the possibility of a better life.