Partnership is key to stabilizing our hardest-hit communities
The Census Bureau defines areas of concentrated poverty as neighborhoods where 40 percent of households live below the federal poverty level. That’s $24,600 for a family of four in 2017. Today, 43 million people — more than 1 in 10 Americans — live in poverty. Families living in concentrated poverty are forced to make difficult decisions on a daily basis about how to cover their basic living expenses. For them, long-term financial planning — such as saving for a down payment for a house — is out of reach.
Living in poverty affects all aspects of life, not just housing. For example, people living in impoverished neighborhoods often have limited access to nutritious food. That’s because low-income neighborhoods have only half as many supermarkets as wealthy ones. Residents in low-income neighborhoods often have difficulty accessing health care as doctors and hospitals relocate to wealthier areas. Access to quality education is also an issue. As a result, 86 percent of third graders living in areas of concentrated poverty are reading below grade level.
In fact, where you live even affects how long you are likely to live. Residents of poor neighborhoods may have 20 or more years shorter life expectancy than residents of wealthier communities.
The Listening Tour
Fannie Mae is committed to creating housing opportunities — both rental and ownership. Over the years, we have demonstrated our commitment to providing affordable housing by financing thousands of affordable units across the country. Now, with growing numbers of cost-burdened households and a decreasing supply of affordable housing, we realize that we need to take a fresh look at this complex, persistent issue.
So last year, we engaged with about 60 organizations across the U.S. to listen and gain perspective on the issues driving the nation’s affordable housing crisis. Through our listening tour, we met with organizations that directly affect housing, as well as those in sectors adjacent to housing — including energy, health care, and education.
These conversations confirmed two important things for us. First, solving the shortage of affordable housing is not one-dimensional. And second, housing is inextricably linked to the broader community. Accordingly, we are committed to developing and strengthening our partnerships to address this important issue.
Launching Sustainable Communities
With the conclusion of the formal listening tour, we officially launched the Sustainable Communities Partnerships and Innovation Initiative. It is grounded in the belief that to make a meaningful difference, we need to approach affordable housing holistically. We need to focus on where it intersects with key aspects of a sustainable community — such as health and wellness, education, jobs, and transportation. Through this initiative, we will explore and form new partnerships that will enable us to convert the key themes we heard during the listening tour into tangible projects. So far, we have defined five partnership projects that we will advance in 2017.
Promoting Healthy Living
On May 23, we announced Healthy Housing Rewards™. This program provides financial incentives to borrowers who incorporate healthy design features in their affordable rental properties. Adding features such as common space, community gardens, and playgrounds can have a significant impact on the health and wellness of residents. This ranges from increased physical activity and social interaction to growing more of your own food, improving indoor air quality, and reducing the environmental triggers for asthma, especially for kids. Leveraging work done by the Center for Active Design, Healthy Housing Rewards promotes healthy residents and engaged communities.
Projects Under Development
In addition, we have several project pilots under development. They include:
- An effort to have college students help prepare tax returns for low-income residents in hard-hit Southern markets and encourage those getting a refund to save for a down payment.
- An opportunity to attract and invest in innovative ideas that advance sustainable communities and affordable housing.
- An effort to recruit and prepare college students from diverse backgrounds for careers in the housing industry.
- A program that offers our partners short-term consulting on housing-related issues from a Fannie Mae employee.
That’s just a sampling of projects we’ve got planned now. Our listening continues.
I’ll keep you updated on our progress and I’d love to hear your ideas too. Become a virtual partner by sharing your thoughts below.