Investing today in affordable family housing for a stronger workforce tomorrow

As a real estate developer, I know housing matters for a variety of outcomes, but continue to be surprised by how strong the impact of housing is on child health. I have learned over the years through  the work of Children’s HealthWatch, about the strong link, not just with child health but also with family well-being. Families doubling up or moving more than twice in a year are more likely to have children in fair or poor health, and at risk for developmental delays. This literally plays out on their bodies, with children at lower weight for age among young children.  Furthermore, children in families who are just behind on rent in the past year have often the same increased risk of developmental delays, fair or poor health, and are below average in length/ height (another marker for under-nutrition). Their families also face high levels of stress – struggling not just with housing but also to afford food, utilities, and health care.

Even though the impacts of housing insecurity on child health are well-documented, national and local data make clear that there is not nearly enough affordable housing in this country. Nationally, there are only 28 adequate and affordable units available for every 100 renter households in need of affordable housing. While Suffolk County, MA (the county in which Boston sits), where I live and work, ranks among the top cities in the country for closing the affordable housing gap, there are still only 51 adequate and affordable units available for every 100 extremely low-income renter households. We need to do better: despite being among the best in the country, it still feels at times we are failing the 49% of people in need of affordable housing.

Given that this crisis in affordable housing can touch across the sectors of health, the economy, the physical supply of buildings, public policy and more, the solutions must also be just as boundary crossing.  I and my fellow business leaders have an important role to play. To that end, I have joined developers across the nation who are thinking creatively about ways to build more affordable housing that holistically addresses needs of low-income families, including access to transportation and jobs, providing high quality units in neighborhoods of opportunity.

One of Related Beal’s projects in downtown Boston will construct 239 residential units, all of which will be affordable for families earning between 30% and 165% of the area median income. We also plan to provide three-bedroom apartments for larger families; this is unusual for downtown properties. This housing is specifically designed for low and middle income working families and is located both near public transportation and less than one mile from one of the five largest central business districts in the US in terms of jobs. We hope this project will spur conversations across the city and be the first among many toward closing the gap in affordable, accessible housing.

This housing development proposal is similar to a successful model in Philadelphia. Jonathan Rose Companies and Association of Puertorriquenos en Marcha built Paseo Verde, a 120 rental unit apartment complex for low and moderate income families near one of the busiest transit hubs in the regional transit system. This project was specifically designed to provide a healthy living environment for residents by including a reduction in water and energy use and providing community service spaces, access to spaces with greenery, a pharmacy, and supportive services provided by a local agency. This development, like mine, utilized several tax credits administered by local, state, and federal governments to leverage positive change within the community.

Improving child health and the strength of their families extends beyond the work of health care providers. Business leaders must also play a role in ensuring that we have enough affordable housing for low and moderate income families. Tomorrow’s strong workforce depends on today’s investment in families with children. By increasing affordable housing stock in neighborhoods of opportunity, we are making an important down payment on our future.