The People Who Enable Thriving Affordable Housing Communities

Op-ed: Resident services coordinators are a highly effective way to unlock the potential of affordable housing communities. New federal funding can make them less rare.

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Despite having the world’s largest GDP, the United States lags behind in delivering economic mobility and social benefits to our citizens. The percentage of our population living in poverty is the worst of all 38 OECD member nations and, in most metrics, we’re below the OECD average.

We’re falling behind in a host of crucial areas, from health care and nutrition to child care and senior care. Without these services, we see senior citizens struggling to make do, children unprepared to thrive in school, poor health outcomes for people of all ages, higher healthcare costs, and insufficient skills to meet the demands of employers. The consequence is a society failing to deliver on its promise of opportunity.

Safe, stable, well-located affordable housing sits at the center of improving all of these issues. That’s because the best, and most effective, affordable housing does more than just provide shelter. It offers digital access, community rooms, classrooms, exercise rooms, health exam rooms, and access to healthy food, all of which can improve residents’ life outcomes.

All of these amenities are even more powerful when activated by the people who bring them to life: resident services coordinators.

Resident services coordinators (RSCs) are an incredibly important aspect of thriving affordable housing communities. RSCs meet with residents, understand their individual needs and connect them with resources both on- and off-site: employment opportunities, job training programs, GED classes, community college and other ways to advance their education and job preparedness, veteran services, health and wellness providers, and food banks to help them bridge the nutrition gap.

Without their on-the-ground support, many of these resources go unused as residents lack the time or expertise to navigate the complex patchwork of services. RSCs also play a pivotal role in developing social cohesion within the affordable housing community, empowering residents and strengthening bonds through events and other programming.

At Grace West Manor, an affordable senior housing community in Newark, New Jersey, RSCs administer a weekly health program with preventative screenings, access to health professionals and health-focused wrap-around services that have developed a culture of health at the property. This program has helped improve outcomes, reduce healthcare costs and lower hospital emergency room admissions for the community’s seniors by bringing healthcare directly to them.

At Bay Ridge Gardens in Annapolis, Maryland, an RSC worked directly with an unemployed resident and mother of five on her job search, resulting in a long-term career in healthcare that’s since enabled her to move out of affordable housing and into a market-rate property.

RSC programs aren’t only highly effective for residents. They also bring financial benefits to affordable housing providers, allowing them to continue and expand their crucial work. A study by affordable housing nonprofit NeighborWorks found that properties with RSCs onsite had lower vacancy losses, bad debt and legal fees – a benefit that far outweighs the cost of such programs.

RSC programs save taxpayers money, too. One study of older adults found that it costs 66% less to serve low-income older adults in affordable housing with a service coordinator than in a nursing home.

Yet for all their benefits, RSCs are a relative rarity. In times of increased construction, maintenance, and staffing costs, most affordable housing providers are unable to staff their resident services departments adequately – if they staff them at all.

But the Expanding Service Coordinators Act (H.R. 5177) can help America’s families. Introduced in the fall by three Democratic lawmakers, the bill would increase funding for resident services programs in federally-funded affordable housing projects throughout the United States. It would fund new RSC programs at properties across the country, provide training for RSCs and include RSCs in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

If passed and fully funded, this legislation would increase the overall RSC workforce by more than a quarter. The resulting ripple effect would impact hundreds of thousands of residents, helping them gain access to employment opportunities, health programs, veterans’ services and more.

Supporting the Expanding Service Coordinators Act should be a clear choice for legislators on both sides of the aisle. By working with residents in their homes, RSCs connect residents to the many opportunities provided by American companies, nonprofits and cities. An RSC in every building would expand the landscape of opportunity for low-income American families forever.

This article is part of Backyard, a newsletter exploring scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more affordable and more environmentally sustainable. Subscribe to our weekly Backyard newsletter.

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Lori Stanlick is the Director of Social Impact of Jonathan Rose Companies, a leading developer of green and affordable housing.

Tags: affordable housing

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