The Future of Affordable Housing Advocacy: How Affordable Housing Addresses Our Climate, Education, and Health Care Concerns
By Michael Bodaken and Nicole Barrett
Who are unconventional stakeholders who can help rally support for housing?
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Affordable housing in the U.S. is not a problem for most of us. While we can relate to the effects of climate change, the power of education, and the frustrations of health care, few among us have experienced homelessness or paid a disproportionate share of our income for our homes or apartments. Still, over 40 million U.S. households experience housing cost burdens.*
In the past, affordable housing advocates have appealed to society’s moral imperative to take care of its poor. Or we have relied on policymakers to make the connection between jobs and affordable housing.
This hasn’t and won’t work. To solve our nation’s affordable housing crisis we must take advantage of the links between housing, the environment, education, and health care.
Climate change is quite possibly the most important global problem we face. Energy efficient housing is part of the answer.
Energy efficiency upgrades in affordable housing are a cost-effective approach to reduce carbon emissions, decrease operating expenses, and maintain affordability for low-income households. Our nation’s multifamily housing stock could become 30% more energy efficient by 2020.** *** A recent analysis found that 85% of multifamily units were built before 1990, leaving room for substantial savings — from 30 to 75 percent — from energy-efficiency improvements.**** Additionally, retrofits to multifamily housing could reduce carbon emissions by 100 million tons of CO2 per year.*****
Stable, affordable housing is fundamental to educational success. Children who are unstably housed demonstrate inconsistent attendance and lower levels of academic achievement. Providing a stable housing secures a brighter future for low-income children and their families.******
Many housing developments provide educational services to their residents, such as afterschool programs. High quality afterschool programs have a proven track record of improving educational achievement.******* At NHT/Enterprise’s properties we’ve observed firsthand how stable homes and education-centered community programs help entire families. At Galen Terrace in Washington D.C., after-school tutoring increased the number of students performing at or above grade level more than six fold.
Stable housing is a critical component of sound health policy. Stable, service enriched housing has financial and health benefits. For those with specific health care needs, supportive housing includes on-site health services. NHT sites offer nutrition classes that emphasize healthy living.
Additionally, affordable housing reduces health care costs. It costs $25,000/year to house a resident in supportive housing and $50,000 for a comparable stay in a nursing home funded by Medicaid.
By way of example, at Mission Creek Apartments in San Francisco, supportive housing has improved the quality of residents’ lives and also saved the city $29,000 per resident per year in health care costs, with annual savings to the city totaling $1.45 million.
The future of housing advocacy is inextricably linked to the future of climate change, education and health care policy.
* “The State of the Nation’s Housing: 2013” Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard University
** The Benningfield Group. 2009. “U.S. Multifamily Energy Efficiency Potential by 2020,” 3–9.
*** HUD Evidence Matters, Summer, 2011.
***** U.S. Multifamily Energy Efficiency Potential by 2020, supra, p. 3.
****** “The Positive Impacts of Affordable Housing on Education: A Research Summary,” Maya Brennan. Center for Housing Policy. 2-7.
Michael Bodaken is president of the National Housing Trust (NHT) and Nicole Barrett is a public policy associate for NHT.
Welcome to the BPC Housing Commission expert forum! This forum is intended to foster interactive and substantive discussion about pressing housing issues. Each month contributors from different parts of the housing sector will be invited to respond to a discussion topic. Guest posts will feature prominently on BPC’s website, as well as be shared regularly with Housing Commissioners to help inform their work.
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