The most successful, long term, low-income housing projects are those that use sustainable design and address the social, cultural, and economic needs of residents.. By implementing sustainable low-income housing projects with residents’ need in mind, the developers, residents, and the community as a whole will benefit.
A community with a sustainably designed project often views the project in a more favorable light than they would a traditionally built housing project, enabling residents to become part of the community instead of being treated as pariahs (Marin). Studies show that people living in sustainable housing projects move less frequently, and have positive feelings about their homes. Susan King, a principle at the architecture firm Harvey Devereaux in Chicago commented on the benefits to the community and to residents that come with a green housing project, saying, “In cases where the developer promotes the green aspects of a building to the community and also educates the people who live there on these features, the building starts to be known for these qualities. This can start to override the stigma often associated with low-income housing and even serving as a point of pride for those who live there” (Marin).
Most people who live in government subsidized housing projects also rely on government assistance for health care. Evidence shows again and again that traditionally built housing projects in major cities are breeding grounds for disease, plagued with violence, and terribly stressful for the people who inhabit them. High stress living environments can add to a myriad of physical problems as well as psychological problems including depression, and in children behavioral, emotional and cognitive problems. The toll all of these factors have on childhood development often causes lasting, lifelong health problems whose expense will almost certainly fall on the government, and ultimately on the tax payers of this country. On adult we see an elevated mortality rate compared to the rest of the country, and high rates of cardio-vascular maladies, related to high stress and poor quality food (Rosenthal; Acevedo-Garcia; Spielman). Essentially, the traditionally built housing projects our government has used to house very poor and low-income citizens are costing the government additional dollars in health care, and costing the residents of these projects their health. The system for low-income housing our government has implemented is failing on several levels. The need for a new approach is evident, and the solutions that sustainable design can offer present economic, humanitarian, ecological, healthy, and aesthetic improvements to the norm.
As sustainable low-income housing projects are received with welcome into different communities, they act as important catalysts for integration. The segregation of poor people into predominately poor neighborhoods is a major factor shown to adversely affect those residents’ health. In 1994, the program Moving to Opportunity (MTO) began studying very low-income families with children, randomly assigning participants into three groups. The control group would remain living in public housing, the second group was assigned unrestricted Section 8 vouchers, and the experimental group was given housing vouchers that were only good in low-poverty neighborhoods and were given free housing-search counseling (Acevedo-Garcia). Educational and employment outcomes, health, and reliance on public assistance were all documented over the years (Acevedo-Garcia). “The latest evaluation report by HUD showed that girls in the experimental group--i.e., those who moved to low-poverty neighborhoods--had improved mental health and a lower risk of using marijuana and smoking than girls who stayed in public housing. Adults in the experimental group experienced significantly lower obesity than those in public housing, and lower prevalence of mental health problems (psychological distress and...
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