Empower Missouri’s Affordable Housing Coalition, a multi-disciplinary team that was formed after our 2018 annual conference, met last week in Columbia to begin articulating clear priorities for the 2020 legislative session. We covered issues like tax issues, human rights, transportation, and evictions while developing a plan that helps us work toward a future where every person in Missouri has access to safe and affordable housing. It is a big lift, and it will take a lot of work, but I am confident that we can do it. We have to. 

The evidence is extremely clear that housing is the key to building the future we all want for our communities. Children’s Health Watch, a non-partisan collective of pediatricians, researchers, and child health and policy experts, joined the National Low Income Housing Coalition to hold a briefing for members of Congress last week. They presented the outcomes of their studies into the effect that poverty has on children, showing an increase in negative health outcomes related to housing instability and homelessness.

They compared children who live in families that experience stable housing to children who experience multiple moves, homelessness, or who are behind on their rent. They found kids without secure housing face an increased risk for poor health, food insecurity, periods of time without lights or running water, and had less access to healthcare or medicine because of cost. Their mothers also experienced an increased risk for poor health and depression.

All people, but especially children, need a stable home in order to thrive. Housing is the key to improving these children’s outcomes and also helps to lower their healthcare costs. Children’s Health Watch provided examples of case studies where healthcare costs decreased by 90% when children were provided with stable housing.

The Children’s Defense Fund joined the briefing to share the results of a recent study they conducted to lower child poverty. Unsurprisingly (to us), they also showed that the key is stable housing. Their study suggests that by providing an increase of rental assistance vouchers alone, we could reduce child poverty in America by 22%. Right now, only 1 out of every 5 households that need and qualify for housing vouchers receive them because of the extreme under investment in the program at the federal level.

In the state of Missouri, if you earn 50% of your area median income (AMI) or less, you are probably housing cost burdened, spending more than 30% of your income on housing costs. Over half (69%) of individuals and families earning 30% AMI or less pay over half their income to housing costs. This might be sustainable for a time, but we know these households are often just one emergency away from homelessness. 

In addition to calling for a more robust investment at the federal level, we need our local and state policies to reflect the importance of affordable housing in our communities. The people of Missouri need safe, accessible, and stable housing. We’re working on it, and I hope that you join us.

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