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How Housing Matters Conference

Message From the Assistant Secretary
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How Housing Matters Conference

Raphael Bostic, Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research
Housing matters. We at HUD know this. We see it every day. In fact, HUD believes that housing can be a platform to improve the quality of life, as measured in education, economic opportunity, and health, and we have made this one of our strategic goals for 2010–2015. A recent event at the National Building Museum made it clear that a great many others know that housing matters as well. On November 2, 2011, several hundred people gathered there to discuss How Housing Matters. The day-long conference, built on the MacArthur Foundation’s five-year, $25 million research initiative and co-sponsored by PD&R, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Building Museum, brought together researchers, practitioners, advocates, and policy makers to examine just how housing does matter.

The day provided insight into how housing matters and featured experts in a variety of fields. It was a very interesting and engaging program, as the combination of people across varied disciplines and professions made for a series of conversations that were different from those that take place at meetings where one perspective dominates. There were many takeaways from our four panels.

Housing as a Platform for Education. This panel examined the importance of stable, affordable housing for education and discussed innovative policies and programs that connect housing with high-quality schools and education programs. Take, for example, the Denver partnership between the Bridge Project, the University of Denver, and the Denver Housing Authority. They jointly run education programs in public housing developments that reach children where they live via a holistic framework tailored to directly confront risk factors, create protective factors, and build the children’s resilience. Evaluations show that 75 percent of the students in the program improved their reading scores by at least one grade level. This innovative example shows how housing matters in relation to education and the positive effects that can result from linking the two sectors.

Housing as a Platform for Economic Opportunity. The conversation on this panel focused on the linkages between stable, affordable housing and increased income and job opportunities. A highlight was hearing from a graduate of the Family Self Sufficiency (FSS) Program, Martina Gillis, who had been homeless but was able to leverage the opportunity provided by the program to purchase a home. And this housing security allowed her to finish her education and she now has two Masters’ degrees. She is a shining example of How Housing Matters.

Housing as a Platform for Health. This panel, which I moderated, explored how quality, safe and stable housing can lead to improved physical and mental health outcomes for children, families and older adults, and highlighted practical models for providing health services and supports that may lead to cost savings to the nation’s health system. Going into this panel, my catch phrase for this issue was “Housing as a public health intervention,” which emerged from an earlier conference on housing and HIV/AIDS that I attended (my synopsis of which can be viewed here). But that was trumped by Dr. Megan Sandel of Children’s Health Watch, who offered that “a safe, affordable home is a vaccine” that protects children against the consequences of poverty. Wow. Dr. Sandel has seen firsthand that improvements in one’s housing can lead to improvements in one’s health, particularly among children and the elderly, and is working hard to spread the idea of housing as vaccine to other health practitioners.

In the last session of the day, entitled, “Evidence to Policy and Practice,” panelists stated the importance of high quality research. Experts pointed out that high quality research is truly non-partisan; it benefits everyone and allows us to know what we can act on and what works. The panel concluded that we need to be able to support future policies and convey just how much housing really does matter.

I could not agree more. Our How Housing Matters conference signaled not the end of a conversation, but rather an important turning point in an ongoing discussion. I want you to be a part of that discussion, and offer this challenge. Try to include the phrase “how housing matters” in your work, so that people hear it over and over and it becomes a common understanding. In so doing, we can together build a community of practice that understands that housing does matter and incorporates housing into the policy solutions of tomorrow.