The Ripple Effects of Having a Stable Home

Posted by Jonathan Reckford on June 11, 2015

“Homeownership increases a chance that a child will stay in school by up to 9 percent for low-income families,” said Vice President Joe Biden at a forum in April co-hosted by Habitat for Humanity International at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“…It’s not just the family in the home that does better; it’s the community that does better. When a family buys a home, they are not just buying land and a house; they are buying a financial stake in the community.”

Those comments echo the views of many experts in the field of affordable housing—that decent housing and homeownership must be part of the solution when addressing many problems facing the modern world.

However, housing often gets left off the agenda in conversations about vital social issues, even though continued research indicates that safe and decent shelter is critical for family and community health. And more industries outside the housing arena are beginning to take notice of the ripple effects of having a stable home.

The New York Times recently reported on a pilot program in Minnesota in which one hospital was paid a fixed amount of money per patient—not per visit or per procedure—in an effort to help fix problems before they became larger medical issues. Medical costs in the county fell by an average of 11 percent. The article reported some of the biggest cost reductions were among the more than 250 patients who had been placed into permanent housing.

Habitat for Humanity sees many positive results of stable housing as well. A study completed earlier this year included these findings among Habitat homeowners:

  • Fifty-seven percent of those who suffered with respiratory illnesses saw improvement.
  • Over half of homeowners with children said students’ grades improved, and nearly two-thirds reported observing better study habits.
  • About two-thirds of the homeowners with children feel more confident about their ability to fund their children’s college education.
  • In 92 percent of the Habitat homes, at least one adult started, completed, or plans to start higher education or training programs.
  • In nearly half of Habitat households, someone changed jobs since becoming a homeowner. Of those, 80 percent said their jobs are better.

A recent study conducted by Bay Area Habitat in Houston reported a number of positive improvements, including 50 percent of children making healthier food choices and 63 percent of children improving their reading skills. Half the homeowners have a reduced commute time to work and also feel better about their ability to cover a large, unexpected bill.

Reduced crime is another common result of improved housing. In neighborhoods in Memphis, where Habitat has built or rehabbed at least 20 homes, crime decreased by an average of 35 percent during the period from 2006 to 2013.
Broader studies have pointed to similar connections.

Catherine Joyce, director of data management at the Urban Child Institute said that children who grow up in owned homes are less likely to drop out of school and less likely to become teen parents.

Kate Rubin, vice president of social responsibility for United Health Group says healthcare companies are paying attention to housing and health issues. “Studies show that without stable homes people are sick more often,” she said. “There's more undiagnosed illness and people are more likely to seek care in emergency rooms." In an effort to curb costs, the company invested $150 million to help build low-income housing in 12 states.

Having a place to call home—a place to feel secure—is foundational. A decent place to live creates stability, launching families into a promising cycle of possibilities and progress. And stable communities also help build a stronger economy.

That’s why we are urging Congress to make “right-sized” loans available to everyone who is prepared to be a responsible homeowner. Purchasing a home, no matter what the income level of the buyer, ought to require a mortgage with fair and reasonable terms that are fully understood by the borrower. Lenders also should confirm sufficient family income to cover monthly mortgage payments and other associated living expenses—including utility and transportation costs. We’ve seen for almost 40 years now how this model helps families succeed and helps create thriving and inviting communities.

(Photo credit: Kshitiz Anand via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

About the author more »

Jonathan T.M. Reckford is chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity International, a nonprofit Christian housing organization that, since 1976, has helped more than 5 million people construct, rehabilitate or preserve homes in more than 70 countries. Jonathan serves on the boards of InterAction, the Stanford Graduate School of Business, the Duke Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship and Industrial Heat. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Urban Steering Committee for the World Economic Forum. He is the author of a book titled Creating a Habitat for Humanity: No Hands but Yours.

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