The Role of Community in Economical Rental Housing by Design for Communities That Work

Community, in the context of housing, is generally defined by the people who live in a particular area and how they interact with one another. Given that much of our lives takes place in our communities, they have major implications for our opportunity and well-being. For example, economists have found that people are willing to pay more to live near neighbors with higher incomes and more education and in neighborhoods with lower crime rates and better schools. Recent research suggests they may be right to pay more—for example, low-income families receiving housing assistance who were randomly assigned to higher-opportunity neighborhoods showed important gains in some aspects of well-being, especially for younger children.

Meanwhile, sociologists posit that community can be actively built with important consequences for quality of life. In a review of this literature, Robert Sampson, Jeffrey Morenoff, and Thomas Gannon-Rowley identify several mechanisms that play a role in healthy communities, including frequent interaction between neighbors, neighborhood cohesion, informal surveillance and monitoring, and mutual trust among neighbors. They conclude that the evidence is strongest in linking these mechanisms to reduced crime and that links with general improvements in well-being may be important as well.

Given the importance of community, it should be a major consideration when designing and developing rental housing for workforce employees—those in retail sales, landscaping, food and beverage services, customer service, light manufacturing, and other service or production jobs with incomes averaging approximately $26,000 per year. Economical Rental Housing by Design (ERH) provides a market-based solution for fulfilling these workers’ housing needs. Indeed, through a strong community, among other key components discussed in a paper by Tom White, Charlie Wilkins, and Edward Pinto, ERH can afford economical housing opportunities to individuals and families whose backgrounds and modest incomes would keep them out of existing housing options in high-opportunity areas.

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