State and county officials, community development agencies and others came together Tuesday in Charles County to connect the dots between affordable housing and positive health outcomes.
This week is Maryland Community Development Week, and the nonprofit Community Development Network of Maryland is highlighting the importance of affordable housing with a series of events and discussions across the state.
Community Development Network of Maryland is a Baltimore-based nonprofit advocating for the community development industry in Annapolis and providing technical assistance and training, said Odette Ramos, executive director of the organization.
“We also want to promote the importance of community development in Maryland, that’s why we do this Community Development Week,” Ramos said. “We have nine days of activities this year, because there is so much going on in the state.”
On Tuesday, the Community Development Network toured Adams Crossing Apartment Homes, an affordable housing development in Waldorf near J.P. Ryon Elementary School.
The development consists of 264 units, with an additional 48 units underway, said Andrew McGinty, principal with Castle Development Partners.
The units, consisting primarily of two and three bedroom apartments with full kitchens, bathrooms and washer/dryer units, are restricted to those with yearly household incomes of no more than $66,180 or less for a family of four.
Residents also have 24-hour access to a community room, internet cafe, fitness club and playground.
“It’s a full service community, as nice as anything you can get in the [Washington] D.C. area, but it is affordable, so it’s rent restricted and income restricted to households that earn less than 60 percent of the area’s median income,” McGinty said.
McGinty said that when they considered building a development in Charles County, they researched the need and found the greatest need was for affordable housing.
“One of the comments that really stuck with me was, ‘If you work in Waldorf, you can’t afford to live here.’ That to me tells a story,” McGinty said. “The income bands that were being completely overlooked was the workforce-oriented, 50 to 60 percent of median household income. There wasn’t any supply coming in here. The supply of apartment units that were affordable at that price point were old. They were built in the ‘70s … so we saw an opportunity and it really worked out well.”
The tour was followed by an hour-long discussion on the relationship between health outcomes and affordable housing, moderated by Del. Edith Patterson (D-Charles). Patterson said the people in search of quality are important members of the community.
“Who are these citizens? They are teachers, they are social workers, nurses, firefighters, et cetera. Government workers, people who are looking for quality homes,” Patterson said.
Hieu Truong, senior manager of the Healthy Homes and Communities program of the nonprofit NeighborWorks America, said studies have shown that where an individual lives has an impact on their health, even including life expectancy.
“We feel that community development affects health from the get-go, by providing safe, affordable housing, [and] by making stronger, safer communities, but that the impact can be greater … if it includes an explicit health focus,” Truong said.
Dr. Dianna Abney, health officer for the Charles County Department of Health, also sits on the State Child Environmental Health and Protection Advisory Council. Abney said that good housing definitely has an impact on positive health outcomes and keeps medical costs down.
“We know that children living in houses that are in poor repair, that have dust, that have cockroaches, that have windows that do not close correctly, children in those housing situations … who have asthma are more likely to go to the emergency room. Every emergency room visit is a minimum of $1,200,” Abney said.
Karyn Black, director of the Charles County Department of Health’s Local Behavioral Health Authority, said that mental health is also a component that needs to be figured in. Black said 25 to 33 percent of homeless individuals are at an increased risk of mental illness and 50 percent are at increased risk of drug abuse.
“Affordable housing is about these people having access to stable environments,” Black said.