08:44pm Saturday 18 January 2020

Report Finds Subsidized Housing Buffers Families From Food Insecurity

A report on the research, RX for Hunger: Affordable Housing, prepared in collaboration with the Medical-Legal Partnership / Boston, also found these children were more likely to be food secure (have adequate quality/quantity of food), and less likely to be seriously underweight.

Boston’s low-income families face an almost impossible challenge of finding affordable housing. Since the mid-1990’s, housing costs have soared, making Boston the second most expensive rental market in the U.S. after San Francisco. While housing values in Boston dropped 18 percent between 2005 and 2009, rents increased 11 percent over the same period. This increase has been caused at least in part by the growing number of foreclosures and more families were pushed into the rental market, thereby increasing rents.

For most families, housing is their single largest annual expenditure. Families in the lowest income quintile spend on average 40.5 percent of their income on housing versus 14.8 percent on food. The federal standard of limiting rent in subsidized housing to 30 percent of a tenant’s income has become the generally accepted measure for affordable rent. In 2007, nearly half of all Boston renter households were spending more than 30 percent of income on housing, with more than 27 percent paying more than half their income. For Black and Latino households, the percentages were even higher.

“Housing and hunger are inextricably linked and families must cope with high housing costs by stretching already-limited food budgets beyond their ability to provide children with adequate nutrition,” said report author Alan Meyers, MD, a pediatrician at BMC and a researcher for the Children’s HealthWatch. “Childhood hunger and food insecurity cannot be addressed by food assistance programs alone. Subsidized housing provides one of the few real solutions,” he added.

However, despite the significant investment by the Boston Housing Authority (BHA)
in renovating and expanding the stock of available public housing units, demand still far exceeds supply. In 2009, there were over 18,000 households on the wait list for public housing maintained by the BHA and over 8,500 on the wait list for Section 8. Most families remain on the BHA wait lists for years.

According to the researchers, while the broad range of federal and state nutrition programs needs to be strengthened and expanded, they are only part of the solution.
“Securing a housing subsidy, which limits the percent of income paid in rent, frees up resources for other household necessities, including food,” explained added Meyers

In order to protect and expand the supply of housing while stabilizing families in housing they can afford, the researcher recommend that the City of Boston:

• Meet the nutritional needs of families on wait lists for subsidized housing by making sure they are enrolled in WIC and SNAP
• Work to expand the stock and limit any reduction in the number of public and subsidized units
• Expand efforts to reduce evictions from public housing except those necessary for public safety
• Expand the priority categories for subsidized housing to include households that are doubled-up with other families or are moving frequently
• Target city resources on preserving expiring use projects
• Use all available planning zoning and other economic development tools to reduce local barriers to the development of housing that is affordable to low-income and accessible to transportation, services and affordable, healthy food.

This report was made possible by funding from the Paul and Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation.

Boston Medical Center is a private, not-for-profit, 626-licensed bed, academic medical center affiliated with Boston University School of Medicine. Committed to providing high-quality health care to all, the hospital offers a full spectrum of pediatric and adult care services including primary and family medicine and advanced specialty care with an emphasis on community-based care. Boston Medical Center offers specialized care for complex health problems and is a leading research institution. Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine are partners in the Boston HealthNet—15 community health centers focused on providing exceptional health care to residents of Boston. For more information, please visit www.bmc.org

The Children’s HealthWatch is a pediatric research center that monitors the impact of economic conditions and public policy on the health and well-being of very young children. Established in 1998 and based at Boston Medical Center, Children’s HealthWatch has the largest clinical database on children under three living in poverty. The database of more than 36,000 children, more than 80 percent of whom are minorities, is composed of cross-sectional household-level surveys and medical record audits. Children’s HealthWatch collects data daily in Baltimore, Boston, Little Rock, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia in five hospitals that serve some of the nation’s poorest families.

The Medical Legal Partnership / Boston promotes health and well being by combining the strengths of law and medicine to ensure that families’ basic needs for food, housing, education, health care, stability and safety are met. The Boston program serves eligible patient-families at Boston Medical Center and six affiliated community health centers. MLP I Boston is the founding site for the National Center for Medical Legal Partnership.

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Contact: Gina M. Digravio, 617-638-8491, gina.digravio@bmc.org

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