Affordable Housing Myths

Reality: A number of studies have documented that contemporary affordable housing developments have no impact on nearby property values, and in some cases contribute to increased property values. One study conducted in Minneapolis found that “proximity to nonprofit-developed subsidized housing actually enhances property values.” A recent study of four very low-income family housing developments in suburban Chicago revealed that affordable housing can have a positive impact on surrounding property values.1 Numerous studies over time from around the country support the general notion that affordable housing has no negative impact on surrounding property values.2
Reality: This objection is often a code term for racist attitudes against blacks and Latinos since the media paints people of color, particularly those in public housing, as “the face” of affordable housing. In most cases, however, people who need affordable housing are already members of the community no matter what their race. They are senior citizens living on fixed incomes and families working entry-level and low-wage jobs. They are preschool teachers, travel agents, food service workers, clergy, and medical assistants. There is no evidence that affordable housing brings crime to a neighborhood. 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.
Reality: The largest subsidy for housing in the United States is the federal homeowner mortgage interest tax deduction which totaled $108 billion in FY 2003. This is more than three-and-half times the entire budget for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and larger than the budgets of every state except California. And it’s high-income families who benefit – approximately 50% of these benefits went to the top 11% of all U.S. taxpayers.3 Homeownership, therefore, is not the embodiment of self-sufficiency and independence from public subsidy as the rhetoric purports. The reason units at a redeveloped or newly constructed “affordable housing” building can be offered at below-market rents or purchase prices is that the up-front acquisition and development costs of financing would be reduced by federal tax credits and grants from such sources as the Illinois Housing Trust Fund. In other words, the day-to-day operating costs and the rental income would not be subsidized by the municipality.
Reality: Expensive land doesn’t automatically exclude the development of affordable housing. Sometimes it’s a better bargain because the land is in better shape. Less expensive land is often in poorer shape and requires more site preparation and increases the overall development costs.
Reality: Affordable housing must comply with the same building restrictions and design standards as market-rate housing. Because it is often funded in part with public money, sometimes it needs to comply with additional restrictions and higher standards than market-rate housing. Affordable housing is not affordable because it’s built with “sub-quality” materials; it is affordable in the sense that it is less costly to live in because it is supported by additional public and private funds.
Reality: Studies show that affordable housing residents own fewer cars and drive less often than those in the surrounding neighborhood.4
Reality: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, rental apartments have fewer children per unit on average than owner-occupied, single-family housing; rental apartments contain a lower percent of units with one or more school aged children; and rental units have a lower average number of motor vehicles per unit.5 Although not all multi-family rental units are affordable, they make up the bulk of affordable housing.
Reality: Nationwide, the effective tax rate (property tax paid relative to the market value) for multi-family complexes is significantly higher than single family homes.6 Thus, multi-family developments pay their “fair share” in local property taxes. Furthermore, as stated above, multi-family housing actually produces less burden on the local tax system in terms of new services generated than single family homes.

Community Facts

Research has shown that if affordable housing is designed well and placed in mixed-income communities, it can be virtually indistinguishable from market-rate housing. Studies have also found that proximity to affordable housing developments does not necessarily have a negative effect on housing values.

Homeownership/Renter Trends: 1970-2014

    • The total number of housing units has increased
    • Vacancy rates have dropped for homeownership and rentals
    • Diversity of housing type is declining, e.g.building more single-family homes
    • New housing is generally not affordable to low-to-moderate income households/individuals
    • Some developers cite complex financing, low interest loans, and appropriate space as reasons not to build affordable housing
    • Some communities have acknowledged the need for affordable housing for seniors, public employees, individuals and families who live and work within their communities.

The following questions may help generate positive dialogue about affordable housing:

    • What are some of the overarching renting and/or lending trends in these communities?
    • Have costs of rent and mortgages changed over the past 45 years?
    • How are state and local governments or housing agencies creating avenues to affordable housing for low-to-moderate income earners, accounting for an average Housing Wage of $18.92?
    • How can communities plan for mixed-income equitable housing near public transit?
    • Do all protected classes have the same access to fair and affordable housing?
    • What are some long-term policy plans that would include the development of affordable housing within these communities?
The summaries highlight key areas such as affordable housing, demographic trends, diversity, as well as general economic outlook: Deerfield, Evanston, Glencoe, Glenview, Highland Park, Highwood, Kenilworth, Lincolnwood, Morton Grove, Niles, Northbrook, Northfield, Park Ridge, Skokie, Wilmette, Winnetka

Faithful Action

Faithful Action for Fair & Affordable Housing: Interfaith Advocacy Curriculum for Chicago’s Northern Suburbs

Making sure that every human being is housed with dignity is essential to every religious tradition.

How does faith require us to act as individuals, families and faith groups within our communities?

In 2011, Open Communities worked with a committee of religious leaders of several faiths in Chicago’s northern suburbs to create a curriculum for any congregation to use to promote understanding of fair and affordable housing. Designed as a series of five ninety-minute sessions, it includes readings from six faith traditions and interactive case studies and exercises for congregants of all ages.

Open Communities is pleased to release this curriculum to all. We encourage you to contact us at for any assistance in presenting this material. And please let us know how your sessions went!

The Five-Session Journey

Session 1 Sets the Stage

Before embarking on the specific issue of housing, a theological context for the primacy of community and of welcome are set.

Session 2 is the “What.”

Fair and affordable housing is defined in this primarily instructional segment. A resource person from Open Communities or similar housing organization will assist.

Session 3 is the “Why.”

With the first two sessions having brought participants to an understanding of community and specifics about housing, this session expresses the religious underpinnings for action for housing justice. How do different faith traditions address housing? What is different and what do they have in common? A panel of religious leaders will share their teachings.

Session 4 is the “How.”

What can people, working as individuals or in a group, do to further fair and affordable housing? What are the options for action?

Session 5 is the “Call to Action.”

Finally, what will we choose to do? What concrete steps will we as individuals or as a group commit to doing? The timeframe would be specified by the individual or congregation in this session as well.

Each session is designed to encompass the following:

Reflection: What does it mean to do justice as guided by my faith?
Study: What is fair and affordable housing? What are the housing challenges in the northern suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, and in my community?
Action: What can I do? What can my congregation do? What are we pledging to do henceforth?

The End

We end this series of sessions with a joyful celebration of accomplishment in learning, spiritual growth, and commitment to ourselves and others.

All 5 sessions plus appendices and adaptable handouts for your advocacy and education efforts are in one document. One version is for the participants of your sessions, and another version has the five sessions annotated for the facilitators. Enjoy!

Online Resources

  • Center for Responsible Lending Works to preserve homeownership and family wealth through investigation of predatory lending practices.
  • City of Evanston Foreclosure Counseling Provides information for Evanston Residents about foreclosure prevention counseling and education.
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development Provides tips for preventing foreclosure.
  • HUD Certified Housing Counseling Agencies in Illinois
  • Cook County Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program Established by the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program's goal is to deliver critical services to Cook County homeowners in crisis as early as possible once the foreclosure process begins. As part of the program, homeowners who have received a summons to appear in court will have access to housing counseling and legal assistance at no charge. Open Communities is participating in this program as an Outreach Agency, through The Chicago Community Trust, which is administering the program for the County. With the support and information provided through the mediation program, homeowners in foreclosure will be able to explore their options to either stay in their homes or negotiate a respectable exit.
  • If you are at risk of foreclosure or are having trouble paying your mortgage, visit the Governor’s Illinois Foreclosure Prevention Network website at The Network is a FREE, one-stop resource that links homeowners to state agencies and non-profit organizations that offer services designed to keep people in their homes. This includes the homeownership counseling or free legal advice offered by this agency as well as other help including temporary mortgage assistance.
  • Don’t be a victim of loan scams! As foreclosures rise, so do the numbers of loan modification scammers preying on homeowners in need. They will promise to modify your loan, then they will take your money, house, or both. Avoid their deceiving schemes by speaking to a trusted HUD-approved counselor such as the Open Communities. With HUD you have the power to stop them. File a complaint. Call 1-888-995-HOPE (4673) or visit
  • Woodstock Institute Works to develop policy that levels the financial services playing field and ensures that families have the opportunity to build wealth through fair credit practices.