Seeing Rental Housing as a Social Service Platform

by devteam July 2nd, 2011 | Share

According to the Department of Housingrnand Urban Development’s (HUD) research publication, Evidence Matters, the U.S. has not examined its national rentalrnpolicy since the housing crisis began. rnAs a result of that crisis, an ever-increasing number of renters arernfacing a shortage of decent, safe, and affordable homes.</p

In addition to the fallout from thernhousing crisis, there are other reasons for revisiting this topic.  DerekrnR.B. Douglas, a special assistant to the president who serves on the White HousernDomestic Policy Council and leads an interagency rental policy working grouprnsays, “It is not just homeowners who are struggling in the economy; a third ofrnthe population rents. We need to start the conversation, and the thinking,rnabout what we can do at the federal level, and what can be done by the state,rnlocal, and private sectors to support those renters who are now looking forrnaffordable housing options, or having trouble making rents, or living inrncommunities where rental prices are going up, as more people who werernhomeowners move into the rental markets.”</p

This was the impetus for arnconference titled Informing the Next Generation of Rental Housing Policy held last October under sponsorship of thernDepartments of Agriculture, Treasury, and HUD at which more than a dozenrnexperts from the nonprofit development, financial, and academic worlds offeredrnideas for budget-neutral initiatives in the areas of rental housing forrnlow-income households, the relationship between rental housing andrnneighborhoods, and the financial and regulatory barriers in the housingrnindustry. </p

That conference featured a panel ofrnexperts from the nonprofit, development, financial, and academic worlds thatrnlooked at rental housing in three different ways: rental housing and low-incomernhouseholds, the relationship between rental housing and neighborhoods, and thernfinancial and regulatory barriers inherent to the industry.  This panel discussion forms the basis for the finalrnarticle in the spring edition of EvidencernMatters. </p

The primary theme that emerged fromrnthe panel discussion was using rental policy to promote better outcomes acrossrna whole array of domains – asset-building for low income families, good schools,rnbetter neighborhood conditions, more positive outcomes for children and an endrnto chronic homelessness.</p

Nancy O. Andrews, president of thernLow Income Investment Fund, said she envisioned a “children’s healthy startrnvoucher” that would link affordable housing to an array of early interventions:rnprenatal nutritional support; quality early childcare; community health care;rnreplications of the family nurse visitation program which trains caregivers tornparent effectively; and quality schools.</p

There is evidence supporting the efficacyrnof this approach.  Nutritional supportrnprograms such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants,rnand Children, as well as increases in family income in the early childhoodrnyears appear to have more long-term effects than similar initiatives aimed atrnadults. Likewise, studies and experiments “have shown long-term effects, even intornadulthood, of high-quality early childhood education,” said Jeanne Brooks-Gunn,rna social scientist at Columbia University Teachers College. Finally, each earlyrnintervention initiative “saves government spending later” on remedial programs,rncriminal justice, unemployment, and welfare, according to Tama Leventhal,rnassistant professor of child development at Tufts University.</p

Andrews conceived the idea of usingrnrental housing as a platform for a healthy start voucher based on a 17-yearrnlongitudinal study by Professor Gary Evans at Cornell University which suggestsrnthat the stresses of poverty pose a serious threat to children’s brainrndevelopment.  The research shows that thernhigh stresses of poverty on children “actually create physical impairments inrnchild brain formation. In other words, poverty poisons children’s brains” includingrninhibiting executive function and working memory, the parts of the brain usedrnin learning. Making matters worse is that the diminished function appears to bernlong lasting, perhaps permanent. </p

The Evans study and others bring thernimportance of housing affordability and safe communities into focus.  Andrews said, “I began to see the connectionsrnamong housing, community, and human potential.” When implemented together, thernservices embedded in her voucher concept may counteract the stresses onrnchildren’s brains and the resultant deficits. As a result, Andrews believesrnthat lower-income children will enter kindergarten ready to learn, which mayrnhelp diminish the achievement gap over the long term.</p

Although it may not seem as criticalrnas quality childcare or education, research shows that net worth is a keyrnpredictor of long-term educational attainment. The article cites a studyrnshowing that parental net worth has a significant effect on total years ofrnschooling, post-high school years of schooling, and college attendance,” andrnnet worth and non-liquid assets also affect whether parents can obtain loans tornsupport their children’s college attendance. rnGiven the huge and growing disparity in income in this country and therndistribution of wealth, building assets is a hurdle to low income householdsrnand, given the link between net worth and educational attainment this becomes arnvicious cycle. . </p

To help build assets among the 4rnmillion people receiving rental assistance and the 8 million families who spendrnmore than half their income on rent and utilities, Andrea Levere,rnpresident of the Corporation for Economic Development, proposed embedding asset-building strategies within rentalrnhousing; creating opportunities for renters to build assets through positivernbehaviors like contributing to a building’s maintenance, paying rent on time,rnhelping to manage properties, and reducing energy usage for individuallyrnmetered apartments. These activities would be rewarded with credits,rnconvertible to cash, that are deposited in savings accounts which residents,rnafter financial counseling, could borrow against for asset-buildingrninvestments, including education, debt reduction, homeownership, and launchingrna business.  </p

Levere also suggested eliminatingrnrestraints on asset building such as limits for subsidized housing thatrndiscourage savings accounts or even owning a car.  Income limits also discourage people fromrnearning more money which might force them to leave their subsidized rentalrnhomes. Expanding the Family Self-Sufficiency program would allow people to stayrnin subsidized housing as their income rises, banking those extra funds inrnescrow accounts which might ultimately enable them to put a downpayment on arnhouse or a deposit on a market-rate apartment. </p

Another advocate of basing a rangernof social services within rental housing, Rosanne Haggerty, MacArthur Fellow andrnfounder and president of Common Ground,rnproposed blending nine different housing and services programs to creaternlong-term supportive housing with the ultimate goal of ending long-termrnhomelessness. Mental health, health care, and other programs would share riskrnand pool their resources she said and when those services are tied to thernplaces where people live, the evidence of the effectiveness of supportivernhousing is overwhelming</p

Haggerty pointed to a recent 3-year Seattlernstudy of a supportive housing development for homeless alcoholics which found thatrnthe development saved taxpayers more than $4 million in its first year – fundsrnthat would otherwise have gone toward emergency care, the criminal justicernsystem, and other services. The savings began to appear within the first sixrnmonths despite the start-up costs. rnAnother study found that the costs of housing a homeless person for onernyear were nearly the same as the systemic costs of the individual remainingrnhomeless for a year.</p

The idea of supportive housing,rnHaggarty said, “Is an approach to housing that is relevant to so many morernpeople and families than the homeless. All of us at some point are going tornneed supportive housing – to have options other than nursing homes or being arnburden to our kids. Individuals and families are able to lead more stable andrnproductive lives when they have a secure home and the help that they need to managernchallenges, whether they be related to health or employment.” </p

READ MORE: Builder Report Offers Reminder. Affordable Rental Units Needed</p


READ MOREHUD Focused on Rebuilding America’s Dilapidated Housing Inventory</p

READ MORE:  Affordable Housing Units Needed for Low Income Renters</p

READ MORE: The Dearth of Affordable Rental Housing</p

READ MORE:  Gimme Shelter: Homelessness Rate Climbing. Low Income Rental Units Needed

All Content Copyright © 2003 – 2009 Brown House Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved.nReproduction in any form without permission of is prohibited.

About the Author


Steven A Feinberg (@CPAsteve) of Appletree Business Services LLC, is a PASBA member accountant located in Londonderry, New Hampshire.

See all blogs


Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Latest Articles

Real Estate Investors Skip Paying Loans While Raising Billions

By John Gittelsohn August 24, 2020, 4:00 AM PDT Some of the largest real estate investors are walking away from Read More...

Late-Stage Delinquencies are Surging

Aug 21 2020, 11:59AM Like the report from Black Knight earlier today, the second quarter National Delinquency Survey from the Read More...

Published by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

It was recently published by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, which is about as official as you can Read More...