In California, Creating Healthier Communities is a Priority

Affordable housing creates a stronger community foundation to promote health and well-being
By Laura Archuleta

The state has made a commitment at the local level to promote healthier living by providing substantial funding with the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Community (AHSC) program for creation of affordable housing and sustainable communities.

As housing costs continue to rise in California and nationally, the public and private sectors are faced with the challenge of establishing an environment that promotes the development of a diverse inventory of housing for all residents regardless of socio-economic status. For many localities, that is a tall order, especially when it comes to affordable housing that in many areas is in greatest demand and shortest supply.

Studies show that to ensure a healthy, strong community, a diverse population requires a diversity of housing to accommodate everyone from young people to families to seniors to people living with physical and mental disabilities. Increasingly, organizations such as the Urban Land Institute, the American Planning Association and the U.S. Green Building Council are promoting the concept of “healthy communities” on a national scale. As one looks closer at the foundation of a healthy community—at the granular level—one sees that affordable housing is a critical element to family life and especially children’s health.

Regardless of lifestyle, income, and/or level of education, I believe it is society’s responsibility to provide opportunities for the creation of sufficient quality housing that is affordable and available. Some of the more important benefits of affordable housing that can improve a family’s life include:

• Affordable housing is frequently built in urban areas near employment and schools so families can walk or bike to work or school or have access to public transit. For children, proximity to school improves attendance and promotes continual learning.

• Many contemporary affordable housing projects have access to community facilities such as parks, swimming pools, playfields and greenbelts, all of which add to a family’s health, well-being and enjoyment of life.

• Affordable housing and services can usually help victims of domestic abuse escape the physical and mental health trauma caused by abuse and avoid the health risks associated with homelessness.

• A study conducted by Children’s HealthWatch found that children living in affordable housing were more likely to be food secure and less likely to be seriously underweight or overweight than children whose families live in substandard housing.

There is a close bond between quality housing and healthy communities and in California this bond is well documented. A study released October 2014 and sponsored by four California agencies—The Department of Housing and Community Development, California Tax Credit Allocation Committee (TCAC), California Housing Finance Agency, and the California Debt Limit Allocation Committee—unequivocally confirms the connection.

Titled “2014 California Affordable Housing Cost Study,” the report points out that, “access to affordable housing can have an impact on the health outcomes of occupants by reducing exposure to environmental toxins and other hazards and/or by freeing up financial resources to pay for healthcare services or purchase more nutritious food.”

In California, it’s not all talk. The state has made a commitment at the local level to promote healthier living by providing substantial funding with the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Community (AHSC) program for creation of affordable housing and sustainable communities. A new revenue source launched by the California Strategic Growth Council in 2015, the cap-and-trade funded program has allocated $450 million over the past two years, including $320 million this year.

I strongly believe that every one of us in the public and private sectors needs to start thinking and acting differently about the critical nature of affordable housing as a key element of healthier communities and healthier living if we are going to solve some of the major social and economic issues facing our nation.

Laura Archuleta is president of Irvine, Calif.-based Jamboree Housing Corporation, a nonprofit community development organization that specializes in affordable housing statewide. For more information,
visit www.jamboreehousing.com.