Affordable Housing Benefits Our Mental Health

By Heidi Bitsoli

A roof over your head is something many of us take for granted. Those of us without it, however, are all too aware that it’s more than a place to shelter us from the elements. 

Affordable housing is a key to many benefits well beyond a place to make memories. A home you can afford provides stability and security, and that added peace of mind can do a world of good for our mental health. 

Mental Health Benefits of Affordable Housing

Affordable housing offers several benefits. When you have enough money to pay the rent or mortgage and have funds left over, that gives you more opportunities to invest in your overall health. Medical care, day-to-day necessities, and even a nest egg become all the more possible. That in itself is great for mental well-being.

Reduces Stress

Stress isn’t all bad. In the short term, it can help us focus. It can spark our fight-or-flight response and help us navigate dangerous situations. 

Over the long term, however, stress can do a number on our health. It can cause your muscles to tense, your blood pressure to elevate, and your heart rate to speed up. Too much strain can affect your heart, your immune system, or lead to headaches, muscle aches, and other nagging pains. 

Ongoing or extreme stress can contribute to depression, anxiety, burnout, and more. If stress drags on to make life feel like a relentless struggle, we might resort to substance abuse as a form of escape. That can further harm our minds and bodies.  

Fostering Stability, Providing Opportunity

Generally, housing is considered affordable when you allocate 30% or less of your total income toward rental or mortgage expenses. This percentage generally leaves sufficient funds to help manage other expenses (including any surprises that arise). It could even leave you with some left over to set aside for a rainy day or even stash something toward retirement. That can reduce stress and offer added peace of mind.

Another investment “opportunity” that affordable housing creates is the chance to invest in yourself. You might be able to further your education, and that could lead to better employment prospects. Having a job you love (or at least like) lowers stress, keeps you engaged, keeps you feeling fulfilled, and makes you healthier overall.

Improved Confidence in Children

The National Center on Family Homelessness revealed that among industrialized nations, the United States has the largest amount of homeless children and women. It attributes a lack of affordable housing as one of the primary causes of homelessness.

Forced relocation, evictions, and homelessness are harmful to children and adults alike. For children in particular, it means they may not get the opportunity to settle in at school. That can affect not only their learning but also harm the chances of establishing friendships and opportunities to socialize.

Unstable situations such as homelessness can contribute to the development of mental issues such as depression, low self-esteem, and developmental delays. Living in doubled-up housing, or experiencing frequent moves or foreclosures also elevates stress levels and feelings of hopelessness.

The stability and security tied to putting down roots can improve a child’s confidence, and minimize the likelihood of them developing mental and behavioral issues linked to stress, anxiety, and other woes stemming from unreliable living situations.

Reduced Need for Emergency Healthcare

Access to affordable and stable housing can minimize the need for emergency medical services. That can remedy some of the issues facing homeless individuals with mental health issues as well as ones plaguing domestic violence victims who find themselves struggling for shelter as they try to begin anew.

Stable housing provides safety and refuge, making people less likely to develop chronic illnesses or risk assault or robbery on the streets. It provides a place to keep proper hygiene and makes it easier to social distance during COVID-19 surges. 

Improved Nutrition

Homelessness and instability put children at higher risk of severe health issues. Kids in economically disadvantaged areas are more likely to have elevated lead levels in their blood and face more hospital visits. They can experience behavioral and emotional difficulties associated with high-stress levels (and sometimes due to lead exposure). Additionally, they may suffer from poor nutrition because the housing budget eats up grocery expenses.

A study showed that participants in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) experienced smaller housing costs. Enrollment in the program reduced the chances of unstable housing situations and food insecurity.

Food insecurity can cause mental health problems such as chronic stress, depression, and anxiety. Plus, good nutrition is vital to optimal brain function and can help improve mental health.

Having affordable housing is not just having a roof and four walls surrounding us. It’s a key to improved physical health and emotional well-being.

Sources – Affordable Housing Benefits Health – Stress and Drug Abuse: The Brain Connection – Washington Rehab and Addiction Sources – The Benefits of Affordable Housing – 5 Reasons Loving Your Job Helps You Live Longer – The Characteristics and Needs of Families Experiencing Homelessness – The Polistive Impacts of Affordable Housing on Health: A Research Summary – Access to Affordable Housing Promote Health and Well-Being and Reduces Hospital Visits – Impact of Affordable Housing on Families and Communities: A Review of the Evidence Base – The Impacts of Affordable Housing on Health: A Research – Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food

Cost of Home Program Celebrates Three Years of Home Affordability Focusing Now on Black Homeownership Gap

On June 12, 2022, Habitat for Humanity International marked the third anniversary of its global Cost of Home (COH) campaign, a collaboration among more than 400 Habitat affiliates worldwide working to increase access to home affordability and stability through policy and system changes at all levels of government. In three short years, 6.1 million people’s lives have already been transformed.

Thanks to a grant from HFH International, Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King & Kittitas County’s COH has contributed to helping 1.6 million people who have or will benefit from the nearly $1.3 billion assessed for affordable housing across the housing spectrum in our region.

Habitat SKC’s Cost of Home program has generated nearly 10,000 letters to lawmakers from homeowners and advocates, published news stories and Op-Eds in local papers to support their work, hosted Governor Jay Inslee at a Seattle build site for a press event focused on funding for “missing middle” housing and homeownership policy, and worked diligently to extend state and city eviction moratoriums, as well as a range of other tenant protection provisions.

This year, Habitat for Humanity International will amplify the Cost of Home program by launching its Advancing Black Homeownership initiative.  Thanks to a recent, beyond generous donation from MacKenzie Scott, Habitat will apply COH tools to engage in policy and systems change for Black families. Currently, only 43.1% of Black Americans own homes, compared to 74.4% of white Americans – an historic 30% gap.

Habitat International will initially invest more than $25 million over the next three to five years — with a goal of raising $100 million or more — to develop and launch a slate of new programs, including an equitable commercial lending strategy and property acquisition fund through Habitat Mortgage Solutions, HFHs community development financial institution. These are substantive answers to some of the racial and systemic biases that have stymied Black access to homeownership for generations. The initiative’s programs will help end the social and economic disparity many Black people and communities of color continue to face. 

Habitat SKC has embraced and will continue to support efforts to grow homeownership opportunities for our Black communities. On the legislative front, Habitat SKC’s COH program succeeded in ending exclusionary neighborhood councils during the 2022 session. We are working to alter the Seattle land use code designation, increase city level growth targets and it has advanced conversation on exclusionary zoning statewide.

While Cost of Homes aims to tackle the unprecedented record shortage of affordable homes overall, the addition of the Advancing Black Homeownership initiative is a natural during June as National Homeownership Month and as we mark our country’s second Independence Day with Juneteenth. This advocacy work allows Habitat for Humanity to expand its work locally and internationally.

It’s more important than ever to celebrate the value that owning a home brings to families, communities, and neighborhoods. There is no better example than the families with whom Habitat partners. For these individuals, homeownership means safety, security, and a sense of belonging. On a grand scale, affordable homeownership creates a diverse and inclusive community and helps keep our workforce strong.

With inflation skyrocketing to a 40-year high, everyday Americans are struggling even more to balance the cost of housing and other necessities. Habitat’s Cost of Home program becomes even more critical in advocating to ensure that everyonehas a safe, decent, and affordable place to live.

Please thank your legislative leaders for doing so much so far by following this link:

Critical Home Repair Spotlight: Sandra

Sandra Browne is a single, 83-year-old woman whose grandfather was an enslaved person from the Deep South. In 1884, after slavery had legally ended in America, her grandfather moved to the Seattle area to escape racism and discrimination, and to search for better opportunities for his family and himself. Ever since, the family has lived and thrived in Skyway, a neighborhood nestled between Renton and Tukwila.

As age and weather began to take its toll on Sandra’s home, she reached out to Habitat’s Repair Program for assistance when she noticed her roof was leaking. Habitat worked with a roofer to replace her roof, repair water damage, and install new fascia and downspouts. Inside her home, Habitat also repaired the ceiling in her bedroom where the roof had leaked. There were many nights before the home repair where Sandra found herself so worried about her bedroom roof caving in from water leaks—which was a valid concern—that she slept in other parts of her home.

The repairs to her home have given Sandra more pride in her dwelling, as well as a sense of security and safety. She said it meant a lot to have her roof repaired, so she could go back to sleeping in her bedroom, where she feels the most comfortable.

Being able to sleep in one’s own bed should be a nonissue. For many homeowners, however, especially low-to-moderate income homeowners and older adults, critical repairs just like Sandra’s can go unfulfilled. Having the right partner resources is a critical link. Habitat’s Home Repair Program works with homeowners who need assistance with critical repairs that will ease health and safety issues and increase their quality of life in the home. The program helps keep low- and moderate- income homeowners not just safely in their primary residence, but also in the community they know and love.

Learn more about the program here.

Bank of America Earns Habitat SKC’s Community Leader of the Year Award

With more than 155 volunteer shifts across 19 different group volunteer days, along with significant financial contributions, Bank of America has earned Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King County’s 2022 Community Leader of the Year award. Bank of America volunteers have been instrumental at Habitat builds, repair sites and in Habitat stores throughout the region since 1995, displaying exceptional personal and corporate commitment to our shared vision of decent and affordable housing for everyone.

In presenting the Award at this year’s ‘Beyond the Build’ luncheon at Seattle Convention Center on June 2, Habitat Board President Kat Sims recognized Bank of America’s long-standing relationship with Habitat for Humanity International, including cash and property donations topping $75 million. “Bank of America sets the gold standard for what it means to be a Habitat corporate partner,” said Sims as she welcomed Bank of America Seattle Market President Kerri Schroeder to the luncheon stage. 

Through direct action and investment, Bank of America is focused on creating opportunities in the areas of health, jobs training, small business support and affordable housing, as these areas are where systemic, long-term gaps have existed and where significant change is required to achieve sustainable progress.

Most recently, a Bank of America employee team showed up on our Habitat site in North Bend on May 25 to work with Habitat homeowners, construction staff and AmeriCorps volunteers on the soon-to-be Tyler Town Community’s home exteriors, installing Hardie lap siding. They added interior framing walls to the interiors and helped with painting and window installation. This team just keeps on adding hours to Bank of America’s already exceptional contributions to Habitat and prospective homeowners!

After accepting the award at the BTB Luncheon, Kerri Schroeder reiterated the corporation’s goals, “As Bank of America continues in our commitment to responsible growth in the communities we serve, we seek out partners that build pathways to economic mobility and stability. Habitat for Humanity has been one of those steadfast partners for decades, so we’re deeply honored by this recognition as we continue to work together to find solutions that expand safe and stable housing here in King County and beyond.”

Photo credit: Alabastro Photography

Beyond the Build Luncheon Raises $1.7M to Combat Affordable Housing Crisis

Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King & Kittitas Counties returned to the Seattle Convention Center on Thursday, June 2 to host our annual fundraising luncheon Beyond the Build – held in person for the first time in two years. And, we are thrilled to report that it raised more than $1.7M to combat our region’s affordable housing crisis!

Emceed by KIRO7 anchor and reporter Aaron Wright and attended by more than 600 people, it featured keynote speaker Jessica Bruder, award-winning author of Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century. Bruder illustrated the clear connection between Habitat’s mission and the people portrayed in her novel and Oscar-winning film – specifically its Repairs Program, which helps to keep people housed and allows seniors to Age in Place.

Habitat Board President Kat Sims presented Bank of America with the Community Leader of the Year award. Habitat SKC’s partnership with Bank of America has spanned 25 years and incorporates engagement of its employees with significant financial support. In presenting the award, Sims said: “As a long-standing partner, Bank of America sets the gold standard for what it means to be a Habitat corporate partner. Since 1995, in King County alone, Bank of America has donated in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and filled more than 155 volunteer shifts across 19 different group volunteer days.”   

Kerri Schroeder, Seattle Market President, Bank of America who accepted the award stated: “Habitat for Humanity has been one of those steadfast partners for decades, so we’re deeply honored by this recognition as we continue to work together to find solutions that expand safe and stable housing here in King County and beyond.”

Bank of America’s partnership with Habitat for Humanity International dates from the early years of the Jimmy and Roslyn Carter Work Project and has continued to grow. Today, Bank of America’s contributions to Habitat for Humanity International total $75 million of support, with more than $55 million in cash and property donations.

Habitat’s Volunteer of the Year award went to Steve Hill for his service on the Weyerhaeuser Alumni Campaign. Steve led a group of eight retired Weyerhaeuser Company executives on a campaign to sponsor a “Habitat House a Year,” which resulted in pledges from 94 former colleagues who committed $1.18 million over five years to two Habitat affiliates. The funds Steve and his colleagues collected will provide housing for ten families over five years.

Additionally, luncheon guests heard directly from Habitat Partner Families about how their donations have made a direct impact on their lives and futures. Habitat CEO Brett D’Antonio declared this year’s Beyond the Build luncheon a resounding success, both for the generosity of those who attended and for the profound insights provided by keynote speaker Jessica Bruder.

All photos taken by Alabastro Photography.