The need for affordable housing is a fact of life in most communities across the country, yet myths, fear, prejudice and misunderstanding often pervade the debate. The NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) mentally persists. To give a little perspective to the debate, here are seven myths and realities about affordable housing.
MYTH #1: Affordable housing drives down property values.
REALITY: Often repeated research shows conclusively that 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. Ask a builder and they’ll tell you it makes sense to use the same quality materials and techniques for every housing unit in a development. 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. The reality is that affordable housing is affordable because public and private funds go into making it less costly to live in, and not because it’s lower quality construction.
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. When a child has a stable home, and can remain in a single school systems, their test scores rise. 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. When housing disruptions are minimized, everybody wins.
MYTH #4: Affordable housing is a burden on taxpayers and municipalities.
REALITY: The reality is that affordable housing enhances local tax revenues. By improving blighted housing stock, or replacing substandard housing stock, affordable housing becomes a net plus on the tax roles. 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, the money they spend in local businesses, and in how they increase property values, and revenue, in a neighborhood.
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. Homeownership increases neighborhood cohesion and encourages cooperation in ridding communities of criminal activity. Families who live in affordable housing seek the same thing every family does – a safe place to raise children and the opportunity to enhance the value of what they own.
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. When you factor in improvements in property values, increases in taxes paid by stable employment, enhanced revenues from a better educated populace, affordable housing provides a net gain to governments at every level.
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.
To learn more about myths and stereotypes in affordable housing, check out some of the links below, or simply look for information online. The truth is easily available to anyone willing to look.