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A little girl from Arkansas said, “If you change where we live, you will change how we live.” This little girl, wise beyond her years knew exactly what she was talking about. Yesterday, HUD released the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) study at the How Housing Matters Conference, a fourteen year study that proved just how right she was.
The longest and most wide-ranging research project in HUD’s history, the MTO study offered 4,600 very low-income families in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York the opportunity to move from public housing into other neighborhoods and measured the impact on their health, employment, and education outcomes. The study showed that families who moved to a neighborhood with lower poverty and crime saw sustained improvements in housing quality and the family environment. But it wasn’t just all about location. This changed impacted their health, too. MTO showed improvements in mental and physical health for adults, including lower rates of extreme obesity, diabetes, psychological distress, and major depression for adult women.
As part of the How Housing Matters Conference, Secretary Donovan and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius participated in a keynote discussion to explore those findings and how health and housing go hand in hand.
“Today’s conversation was about how HUD, HHS and other agencies can continue to deepen the connection between housing and community development and health policy to improve the lives of families. Research is continuing to show that housing is a public health intervention – a platform for improving the quality of life.” – Secretary Donovan
Because there is a shortage of affordable housing, 5.6 million Americans will pay more than half of their income towards rent. This then affects their ability to meet a basic need like their families’ health. But the connection of health and housing doesn’t stop at a person’s home. The connection also lies within their neighborhood. As a result studies like Moving to Opportunity, we know that a family’s overall health and life expectancy can often be predicted just by their zip code.
Both Secretaries also discussed how the Obama Administration is using research to shape housing and health policy and improve how things are done for the country’s most vulnerable families. Through the Recovery Act, the Administration has prevented 6 million Americans from falling into poverty and has saved more than 1 million families from homelessness. And through programs like Choice Neighborhoods – part of the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative – federal agencies are working together and with local partners to find innovative and strategic ways to connect families to necessary assistance and break the cycle of poverty. Because moving to a different neighborhood is simply not enough.
As promising as these steps are for families, it’s clear that there still is so much more to do. Through the American Jobs Act and Project Rebuild, not only will 200,000 jobs be created across the country – just as importantly, 280,000 teachers won’t be laid off and at least 35,000 public schools will be modernized, ensuring children get the healthy start they need in life. Just as important is continuing to measure the costs and benefits of aligning housing and services – particularly for seniors. The Administration’s work around disabilities could provide a real platform for supporting vulnerable populations like seniors – which is why Secretaries Donovan and Sebelius called on the research community to scale up these efforts in the months to come.
With these kinds of partnerships, in government and at the local level, this Administration believes that we can provide Pathways to Opportunity for every family in every community.