Perspectives

Transforming America’s affordable rental housing into healthier places to live

Bob SimpsonFannie Mae has provided financing for affordable multifamily properties across the country for over 25 years – thousands of properties that provide safe and affordable housing to low-income and very low-income people across the country.

Because their economic situation makes it more challenging to own a home, these folks tend to remain in their units longer than renters with higher incomes. Often, they will raise their families, retire, and age in place at the same property. In a very real sense, their apartment is more than just a rental unit. It is their home, and the building in which they live can have a significant impact on their health and financial stability. This is especially true for the elderly and families with children. 

Where you live matters. And it is important that we at Fannie Mae do all we can to ensure the affordable rental properties we finance are built and managed in a way that creates a healthy environment for all of the people who call those properties home.

On May 23, we announced Healthy Housing Rewards, an initiative to promote healthy design in multifamily affordable buildings. Research has shown that certain building design elements and resident services can have a measurable positive impact on the health and well-being of low-income renters. We think incorporating these design features represents one of the best ways to influence positive change for the people and their families who live there. 

The first phase of Healthy Housing Rewards will provide a pricing break for multifamily affordable housing borrowers who incorporate healthy design features for newly constructed or rehabilitated affordable properties. Features that improve air quality and encourage physical activity, as well as those that incorporate common space, community gardens, and playgrounds. We believe that adding these features can have a significant impact on the tenants and the surrounding neighborhoods in which they live – from increasing physical activity and social interaction, to growing more of their own food, to improving indoor air quality and reducing the environmental triggers for asthma – especially for kids.

Healthy Housing Rewards will target properties where at least 60 percent of the units are serving tenants earning 60 percent or below the area median income. Borrowers will be required to demonstrate that affordable properties meet or exceed the minimum achievement score of 90 points – across eight categories of 45 evidence-based strategies – under the Center for Active Design’s Healthy Housing Index, as well as other affordability requirements defined by Fannie Mae.

Everyone should have a safe and affordable place to call home. As an industry, it is our obligation to provide opportunities for those at the lowest end of the income spectrum to go home to a place that promotes a healthy environment.

One of our partners for this initiative agrees. "We see incredible potential for market transformation working closely with Fannie Mae on this groundbreaking financial incentive program,” says Joanna Frank, President and CEO, Center for Active Design (CfAD). “We look forward to continuing to grow this relationship and expanding the reach of Healthy Housing." 

We plan to do more, and we look forward to continuing to work with CfAD and other health and affordable housing leaders on this important issue in the months and years to come.

Bob Simpson
Vice President, Affordable and Green Finance
Multifamily Customer Engagement

June 1, 2017