As adults, we count the dollars that come in and distribute outgoing payments like mortgage, utilities, groceries, transportation and clothing. You can only spend what you have - just as you can only eat the number of cookies that come from the oven. The households with more cookies have more leeway on cookie distribution. Low-income households have fewer cookies and fewer distribution choices.
Barbara knows a lot about cookie math and how housing stability impacts health. Two years ago, she was homeless and couch-surfing following her divorce. She struggled daily with a physical disability and depression that grew worse as her diet of inexpensive processed foods led to significant weight gain. When she entered the Habitat homeownership program, Barbara was depressed, overweight, socially isolated and could barely walk.
Barbara’s situation echoes situations of low-income households everywhere. People in low-income households often spend half their income on housing. This leaves the other half for all the other expenses, including utilities, food and other basic necessities. To make matters more difficult, low-income housing rarely has efficient HVAC or electrical systems. Therefore, the households with the fewest resources spend a higher percentage of income for heat and electricity, leaving fewer resources for things like healthcare and food. Now this is where things get bleak for low-income households. As Barbara discovered, healthy foods like fruits and vegetables cost more than highly processed, low-nutrient food. A diet of low-nutrient food contributes to chronic diseases such as: coronary heart disease and hypertension, cancer, diabetes, obesity, osteoporotic fractures and dental diseases, perpetuating the cycle of loss for many low-income households like Barbara’s.
But there’s good news too.The National Housing Conference recently showed how stable housing changes things for the better. Affordable housing can improve health by freeing up resources for things like nutritious food and health care. Affordable housing also improves mental health, decreases asthma rates and lowers lead exposure.
In 2015, Barbara completed her sweat equity and moved into the first Habitat Cabarrus tiny house. She has been in her home over a year and things have changed for Barbara.
Barbara has a positive attitude and outlook now. She loves her home, the neighborhood and her neighbors. Barbara boosts her mental health with social outlets like the monthly neighborhood association meetings she attends and was pleased to help stuff backpacks with back-to-school supplies for several Kannapolis City Schools this past fall. Barbara recognizes the importance of giving back and was pleased to be able to help local children start out their school year in a positive way. In June, she will attend a CPR training class.
“I’m very happy with my tiny house,” says Barbara. “It’s a tiny house – not a tiny life.”
Barbara finds comfort having financial breathing room now. Her tiny house is energy efficient and the zero-interest mortgage is lower than her previous rent. She knows there is a soup kitchen nearby and says, “It’s nice not to have to rely on the food pantry now. I’ll probably always be aware of the social nets that are out there even if I don’t have to rely on them again.”
Over the last year, Barbara has lost 80 pounds. Another aspect of housing stability has led to Barbara improving her health. Once she lowered her stress level and gained emotional space to breathe, she could focus on more than survival. She could finally spend resources on her physical well-being. She credits her weight loss with physician visits to monitor her progress and diet improvements such as increased consumption of healthy fruits, vegetables and foods high in fiber. Her goal is to lose 30 lbs. more so she can have knee replacement surgery, which in turn will lead to even greater mobility.