Improving tenants' lives through affordable rental housing : quality-of-life impacts of five capitals by developer and location

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Southern New Hampshire University
Affordable housing is asked to address a broad spectrum of physical and social needs and to achieve goals ranging from shelter to family improvement. The U.S. spends millions of dollars annually developing, financing, and operating affordable rental housing for low income households. However, there is no policy for what government-subsidized housing should accomplish for residents and little understanding of potential tenant outcomes. The lack of a comprehensive theory of affordable housing means that policies are made, funds spent, and units developed without goals anchored on sound theory. What then should be expected as the return on affordable housing investments, particularly given the discontinuity between its basic physical goal (decent shelter) and expanded social expectations (self-sufficiency)? Should only direct standard-of-living impacts (safety net outcomes like better and cheaper housing) be expected or should a deeper set of quality-of-life outcomes be expected? The study explores whether quality-of-life improves for tenants who move to affordable rental housing. It offers a framework for measuring quality-of-life changes based on five capitals: financial, physical, social, human, and personal. The study is grounded in theories of affordable housing: place-based, personal life, and professionals' experiences. To answer the research questions, a survey was conducted with tenants at four affordable developments in the Chicago suburbs, all privately-owned rental housing financed through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and H O M E programs. Two nonprofit and two for-profit developments were selected based on area desirability. A quality-of-life index was created comprised of the five capital indices which included subjective and objective questions. The study found that quality-of-life improved for tenants overall compared to their previous housing. However, not all comparison groups or capitals improved equally or as predicted. Physical, Social and Personal Capital increased while Human Capital had no change and Financial Capital actually decreased. The five capital indices were very effective at providing insight into why differences existed within and between groups.