Monday, August 5, 2013

Unconventional allies: Finding common cause with workers on the ‘front lines’ of communities

Photo of Eileen Fitzgerald
By Eileen Fitzgerald
Chief Executive Officer
NeighborWorks America
A woman with diabetes, evicted from her home after failing to keep up with her mortgage, is forced to find shelter with a string of friends. Unable to keep track of her medications or maintain a stable, healthy diet, her disease spirals out of control.

A youth’s grades plummet and he drops out of high school, unable to concentrate on his homework because he shares the same cramped living quarters with five siblings, his parents and grandparents.

An employee of a small business is chronically late and misses key deadlines because she cannot afford to live close to work or secure reliable transportation.

It’s true: Home matters. The lack of safe, clean, affordable housing concerns a wide network of frontline workers in the community. Talk to health care professionals, teachers and business managers, and the critical necessity of decent, accessible housing for health and productivity immediately becomes apparent.

Forty years of research show that reducing overcrowding, for example, lessens exposure to infectious diseases and promotes better health overall. One recent study by the University of Michigan illustrates that housing instability triggers depression and anxiety.

Likewise, teachers testify that children who live in safe, healthy, permanent homes do better in school. National Housing Conference research documents that children who move frequently are absent more from school, have trouble concentrating on their studies, and have difficulty making and keeping friends. In addition, children who live in overcrowded homes have lower math and reading scores, and are less likely to graduate from high school.

In the work world, managers at enterprises both big and small have learned firsthand that employees who are not stressed every month about how they will make their rent or mortgage payments—and ideally do not have arduous or expensive commutes—are more reliable and productive.

By remembering that safe, affordable housing affects virtually every aspect of a person’s life, the number and type of potential partnerships ripe for exploration expands exponentially.

This is re-posted from the Bipartisan Beat blog on the Bipartisan Policy Commission website.