What can we learn from current or previous efforts to link evidence-based outcomes to policy or program development (in the housing sector or elsewhere)?
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Addressing our nation’s health, education, and economic concerns depends on a balanced housing policy with sufficient, targeted, efficient resources that ensure access to affordable, safe, and secure housing for all Americans.
Housing, education, health, and other social policies cannot and do not operate in isolation. As recent studies have shown, evidence-based outcomes of affordable housing align with traditional categories of public concern. In my last post, I highlighted the correlation between residing in affordable housing and better health outcomes for elderly and families. Likewise, green, energy efficient, stable housing has been linked to reduced incidence of hospitalization, childhood anemia, and respiratory illness.
Often housing providers offer place-based health care. At NHT’s Hazel Hill Apartments in Fredericksburg, Virginia, nurse Kathy has made a difference in the lives of our residents. As one resident, Bonnie Silver, observed:
“Kathy is a tremendous help to people. When I got here, I had no health care. I didn’t have a doctor. And my husband had had strokes and no medication. If it was not for her, I don’t know what we would have done.”
Not surprisingly, similar correlations have been drawn between stable housing and education. For example, the National Housing Conference has released a number of studies highlighting how stable housing is correlated to:
- Increased school attendance
- Improved academic performance
- Higher graduation rates
At the National Housing Trust, we have witnessed how our properties – funded by the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and Project-Based Section 8 – have facilitated greater academic achievement among children residing there. At Galen Terrace in Washington, D.C., the after-school tutoring program has increased the number of participating students performing at or above grade level more than six fold. At Hazel Hill we’ve seen similar gains, with the increase in academic achievement reaching eight fold. Also, Hazel Hill’s on-site computer lab has helped a number of adult residents pursue education and job training goals.
How can these observations be applied to the development of future housing policies and programs? One could devise future programs that reward housing providers who demonstrate how specifically funded housing and resident service solutions help solve our nation’s education, health care and other social goals. By way of example, the Trust provides Earned Income Housing Tax Credit (EITC) services for residents at our properties. While we knew that the average refund per family was over $1,000 and assumed that this led to better outcomes for our residents, we had no clue that the EITC may well be sharply reducing taxpayer expenditures for children’s’ health care.
According to a recent study by the Carsey Institute, in the 14 states that have adopted a state based earned income tax credit, there have been considerable changes in family health insurance coverage over the time period before and after adoption of the state EITC. The proportion of children covered by private health insurance increased by 8 percent, while participation in taxpayer funded public health insurance programs like Medicaid and State Children’s Health Insurance Programs (SCHIPs) fell by approximately 14%. See here. If there is a strong correlation between the receipt of EITC and the ability of a resident to pay for private health insurance for his/her family, housing policies could be adopted that steer resources to housing developers who prepare the EITC forms for their residents.
Collecting evidence to document evidence-based policy outcomes is a critical first step. Policymakers should develop holistic housing programs that target desirable outcomes such as increase academic performance for children, promote financial stability, better health and reduction of overall taxpayer expenditures. If housing providers demonstrate how stable housing is working to achieve some of these national policy goals, they should be rewarded.
Michael Bodaken is President of the National Housing Trust.
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