Most of us have a general understanding of the meaning of affordable housing. Some people are in support of it, others indifferent or in cases don’t agree with its concept at all. It was not until I became a volunteer with Habitat of Humanity this past summer that I became aware of the “myths of affordable housing”. All my life I been fortunate enough to have a roof to live in, a secure space to grow as an individual in order to become the person that I am today. I strongly believe that being able to live in a house is a basic right needed for individuals to become an active and productive member in our society.
There are seven myths about affordable housing:
MYTH #1: Affordable housing drives down property values.
REALITY: Affordable housing has no negative impact on home prices, or on the speed or frequency of sale of neighboring homes. In fact, recent studies of very-low-income family housing units in Wisconsin and the Chicago area show exactly the opposite – the presence of affordable housing in a neighborhood actually had a positive impact on property values, even when they are located in affluent areas.
MYTH #2: Affordable housing looks “cheap and undesirable.”
REALITY: Builders of affordable housing must comply with all the same restrictions on design and construction standards as market-rate projects. Often, because affordable housing projects frequently rely on some public money, they have to comply with additional restrictions and higher standards than market rate housing.
MYTH #3: Affordable housing hurts the quality of local schools and lowers standardized test scores.
REALITY: The opposite is actually true. Without affordable housing many families become trapped in a cycle of rising rents and have to move frequently to find living space they can afford. That means their children are not able to stay in the same school for long, resulting in lower test scores on standardized tests. It also means children are able to build the long-term relationships with peers, teachers, and mentors, that are key to increasing performance in elementary and secondary schools. It also increases the likelihood that children will be able to attend college.
MYTH #4: Affordable housing is a burden on taxpayers and municipalities.
REALITY: The reality is that affordable housing enhances local tax revenues. Instead of low or no payment of taxes by distressed properties, affordable housing owners actively contribute to the local economy in the taxes they pay.
MYTH #5: Affordable housing brings increased crime.
REALITY: There are no studies that show affordable housing brings crime to neighborhoods. In fact, families who own their own homes add stability to a neighborhood and lower the crime rate.
MYTH #6: Affordable housing is just another government hand-out.
REALITY: It isn’t the poor who benefit the most from federal housing subsidies, it’s the wealthy homeowner. Homeowners receive tax deductions for mortgage interests and a similar write-off for property taxes paid. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in 2003 these subsidies cost the federal government $87.8 billion, while building and subsidizing affordable housing cost only $41.5 billion.
MYTH #7: Affordable housing only benefits the very poor, everyone else pays.
REALITY: Some of the people impacted by a lack of affordable housing include employers, seniors, poor people, immigrants, low-wage or entry-level workers, firefighters, police officers, military personnel, and teachers. The lack of affordable housing means taxes revenues are not in place to improve roads, schools, or air quality. It means businesses struggle to retain qualified workers, and lowers the amount of money available to spend in those businesses. Affordable housing isn’t about doing something to help the poor, it’s about improving business and raising the standards of working- and middle-class families, and nation at large.
Keeping this in mind I can only hope that you become more familiar with affordable housing and decide to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, raising awareness among your friends and family. And above all avoid the continuation of myths in our community regarding affordable housing.
Evelyn Jacome-Arroyo~ Facilitator