Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: The Impact of Affordable Housing on the Well-Being of Low-Income Households: Findings from an Experimental Study in New York City

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 11:15 AM
Miami Lecture Hall (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Elyzabeth Gaumer1, Ahuva Jacobowitz1 and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn2, (1)NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development, (2)Columbia University
Despite decades of investment in affordable housing, little is known about the impact of these programs on the individuals and families served. 

Since its inception in 1987, the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program has placed 2.5 million units of housing in service, nationwide. New York City has helped to produce or rehabilitate more than 350,000 units of housing since 1980 and is currently dedicated to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing by 2025.These investments substantially outnumber the current supply of public housing and Housing Choice Vouchers in many municipalities.

These housing programs generally serve a low-income working population that may be at greater risk because they do not qualify for most subsidies, yet frequently struggle to make ends meet, particularly in high cost housing markets. Receipt of subsidized housing may help to improve the health and well-being of these households through multiple pathways, including lower housing costs that enable a family to invest scarce resources, improved housing quality that reduces exposure to substandard conditions that may impair physical health, and improved access to resource-rich neighborhoods that provide opportunities for social engagement and higher quality local institutions and amenities. This paper examines how housing contributes to the physical and mental health of these low-income individuals, including if the offer of affordable housing and corresponding changes to housing and neighborhood conditions lead to improvements in well-being.

The New York City Housing and Neighborhood Study is a randomized control trial that evaluates the impact of moving to newly-constructed affordable housing on the well-being of near-poor households in New York City. 3,000 households were randomly assigned to either receive an affordable housing unit at one of thirteen developments located in five neighborhoods (n=~1,500) or remain in private market housing without assistance (n=~1,500). In-person follow-up interviews were conducted two to four years after intervention to assess differences in housing and neighborhood quality, financial stability, neighborhood safety, social context, physical and mental health, and health behaviors.

Preliminary findings show that treatment households are significantly less likely to be rent burdened, to have delayed critical expenses due to financial strain, to be depressed or anxious, or to have had an asthma attack in the past year. Those offered housing are significantly more likely to live in a unit with no maintenance deficiencies and to feel safe in their neighborhood. These findings offer first-of-its-kind evidence of the impact of affordable housing on individual outcomes and show the potential for affordable housing programs to improve the well-being of this vulnerable population.