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The Word Curse of Affordable Housing

Affordable housing. Subsidized housing. Low-income housing. These terms all have a very negative connotation to the general public. I believe this is influenced by decades of watching the nightly news or movies and television shows (like Law & Order, in which the only “good” Black character usually portrayed is Ice-T).

Low-income families and neighborhoods are usually portrayed in a negative light — held up as broken, and as a burden on the rest of society. Hurtful stereotypes are frequently reinforced publicly and privately, and are unfortunately strongly related to racism and classism.

Workforce housing is yet another term — this one invented primarily to improve the public perception of the people who might live there. Because they might be working, they are therefore judged as slightly more worthy of public support. Part of this worthiness calculation includes the assumption that we, the public, should help the “worthy” families and individuals more than the unworthy.

Worthiness calculations are a slippery slope. Here’s an example. Two people just moved into affordable apartment homes with Aeon. Neither is working. One is a veteran with disabilities. The other is a seventy-five-year-old grandma who was homeless. She washed herself every day in the gas station restroom down the street. Worthiness judgments? I would hope not.

Many people believe Aeon creates some of the most subsidized housing out there, but the truth is that the most highly subsidized housing in the country is homeownership. About $115 billion in annual subsidies — through federal and state mortgage interest deductions — goes to the top 5% of wage earners. For what? To build bigger houses, buy second houses, or buy boats with bathrooms. But this tax deduction is for people of relative wealth (perhaps the “most worthy”) and we don’t call it a subsidy, we call it an economic incentive.

Due to the negative public perception of affordable housing, we believe part of Aeon’s challenge is to demonstrate how positive affordable apartment homes are and can be in our community.

Aeon’s goal is an impact greater than just four walls and a ceiling. Aeon’s vision is that every person has a home and is interconnected within community. Home is obviously deeper and more profound than just housing. Together with our residents, we make Home happen. How do we know?  Aeon’s highest-level metric, HomeScore, measures whether residents:

  • Feel secure, safe – have a sense of sanctuary, peace, respite, oasis
  • Engage with others, interact with family and friends, and connect within community
  • Exhibit a sense of ownership, accountability, contribution

Though not perfect, our HomeScore illustrates that an imperfect measurement of the right thing is far better than a perfect measurement of the wrong thing.

So, what Aeon does is not the affordable housing you see on television, or the specter that might enter your mind when you hear the words “affordable housing.” It is the opportunity of Home for thousands of children, women, and men — and a sense of belongingness I hope you and your family experience every day.

Alan Arthur, president and CEO 

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  • Donna Berry says:

    Yes! Thank you for pointing out so clearly the class and race bias involved of our judgments of “worthiness.” No one wants to think about homeownership being subsidized, but it certainly is. I have lived in subsidized housing, and I was very grateful for it. Keep up the good work! Donna Berry

  • Xmuslum Atheist says:

    The affordable housing can help a community maintain a stable population by making
    it easier to retain people who already live and work there. There is no evidence that affordable
    housing brings crime to a neighborhood.
    In fact, affordable housing, as a tool of economic
    development, can often help to lower crime rates. The National Crime Prevention Council calls
    for the construction of affordable housing to reduce crime because “neighborhood cohesion and
    economic stability are enhanced in areas where the continuing supply of dispersed, affordable
    housing is assured.”

    Whether a development will be an asset or a detriment to a community more often turns on basic
    management practices: careful screening, prudent security measures, and regular upkeep. Most
    affordable housing residents are seeking safe and decent housing that will allow them to live self-
    sufficient lives in a good community.

    Xmuslim Atheist Rebel

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