Affordable Housing 101

Why is affordable housing important? Is rental or homeownership more important?

Why is decent, affordable housing important?

Decent, affordable housing is important to families. Certainly, it fulfills a basic human need for shelter, but it also contributes to the well being of both parents and children. Studies show that children in stable housing do better in school and are less likely to experience disruption in their education due to unwanted moves. Decent, affordable housing reduces stress, toxins, and infectious disease, which leads to improvement in both physical and mental health. Affordable housing also frees up funds within families’ tight budgets to spend on health care and food. Studies have shown that children whose parents receive housing assistance benefit from better nutrition. For parents, living in decent, affordable housing also means reduced stress due to a lessening of concerns that high housing costs will lead to foreclosure and eviction; this in turn leads to fewer physical and mental health problems and reduced absenteeism on the job.

Affordable housing also is important to the economic vitality of communities. Affordable homes can attract and retain employees to your community- a selling point and a competitive advantage for area employers. Affordable homes also support the local workforce so they can live close to their jobs. Shorter commutes allow workers to spend more time with their families while the community benefits from reduction in traffic congestion, air pollution, and expenditures on roads. In revitalizing communities, the construction of affordable homes can also help to stimulate economic growth. A healthy mix of housing options, from market- rate and affordable rental housing, single- family homes, duplexes, as well as developments for seniors, ensures opportunities for all individuals to improve their economic situation and contribute to their communities.

Which is more important- rental homes or homeownership?

To meet the diverse needs of your community, both rental housing and homeownership are important. Rental homes fulfill the needs of many families. For some, especially low- and moderate- income families in high- cost markets or families who have recently lost a home to foreclosure, rental homes are the most financially realistic option. Other people rent because they prefer the lifestyle of renting and may still be as socially invested in their community as homeowners typically are. Among their ranks are both former homeowners who are empty- nesters and lifelong renters who don’t want to worry about lawns, gutters, and home repairs. Still others rent because they expect to move frequently. Finally, for some families, affordable rental housing is an important stepping stone that allows them to accumulate savings and prepare for homeownership.

Homeownership is also a critical part of the housing stock and can be a stable and affordable option when the mortgage terms and home price are within reach of a family’s budget. For many working families, homeownership represents the American Dream. Aside from comprising their largest financial asset, homeownership provides security from unwanted moves and control over features of their home. Some studies have shown that homeownership is beneficial for children- they are more likely to do well in school, less likely to have behavior problems and less likely to become pregnant as teenagers. From a community’s perspective, homeowners may provide stability to their neighborhoods in which they are invested.

For these reasons, communities should work to ensure there is sufficient rental and homeowner housing stock to meet the diverse needs of all families in the community.