This story was originally published by Affordable Housing Finance.
In Evicted, author Matthew Desmond writes, “The home is the center of life. It is a refuge from the grind of work, the pressure of school and the menace of the streets.”
But for many very low- and extremely low-income households, the home is not a refuge but a source of mental and emotional stress, health risk, and instability.
Because where you live matters.
As an industry, we can do more to provide opportunities for those at the lowest end of the income spectrum to go home to a healthy environment. Fannie Mae believes this effort begins at the property level. That is why we continue to develop innovative approaches to financing to ensure that more affordable rental properties can provide financial stability, a healthy living environment, and better access to community services.
Studies have shown that children in low-income families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent are more likely to suffer from iron deficiencies, malnutrition, and underdevelopment. We think it’s important to provide financing for projects that participate in federal, state, and local programs designed to keep rents affordable for low-income households. We also need to continue to provide incentives for property owners to invest in energy and water-saving improvements that lower utility bills for their renters.
A recent analysis by the National Equity Atlas estimated the average rental household would have an additional $6,200 per year if they paid no more than 30 percent of their income for rent. That means every affordable unit preserved frees up more than $500 per month to support a low-income family and invest in their future.
Healthy Design and Maintenance
Health is impacted by how properties are designed and maintained. When older buildings were constructed, no one understood the harmful impact of indoor air pollutants and toxic substances like lead paint. And the housing industry didn’t fully appreciate how green space and natural light can promote better health.
Today, we all know that certain design features and maintenance practices in new and existing properties can improve air quality and encourage physical activity. These practices can help reduce the rates of childhood asthma and other respiratory diseases and encourage physical activity and increase how much time people spend outside—all of which helps create a healthier living environment.
Better Access to Community Services
Providing on-site services to low-income households or having a dedicated resident service staff to coordinate those services can greatly improve residents’ health. This is especially true for families on the lower end of the income spectrum, as well as seniors. A 2015 study funded by the MacArthur Foundation found that having an on-site resident service coordinator at an affordable seniors housing property actually reduced hospital admissions among residents by 18 percent.
Resident services such as preventative health care, physical and social activities, after-school programs, and financial literacy classes also benefit the health and financial well-being of low-income renter households and increase educational opportunities.
To incentivize these kinds of on-site services, Fannie Mae recently launched phase two of our Healthy Housing Rewards financing.
Affordable Housing as a Platform for Healthy and Stable Communities
As an industry, we can do more to ensure that those who rent the apartments we build, manage, and finance have homes that offer more than just place to eat and sleep. We want them to have homes where they can feel secure enough to pursue their dreams.
By using affordable housing as a platform, Fannie Mae can fulfill its mission to support affordable rental housing and work with our partners to create healthier living environments and better economic opportunities for low-income rental households across the United States.
Because we think every family should have the kind of refuge Desmond so eloquently describes.
Bob Simpson is Fannie Mae’s vice president for affordable and green finance in multifamily customer engagement.
To read more stories like this, visit Affordable Housing Finance.