Healthy Food Access: Improve Resident Health, Save Site Money

The following is an excerpt from NYC Foodscape‘s recent article for a national affordable housing publication, Assisted Housing Management Insider, about creating and managing food access programs for residents of affordable housing sites. The Insider is a plain English “how-to” publication, giving advice to owners and managers of low-income/federally-subsidized and public housing (Section 8 project-based, Section 202, Section 236, Tax Credit, NYCHA/PHA, HOPE 6 and other federally regulated sites) on complying with complicated housing regulations and managing their properties effectively.

Urban Farm
Urban Farm

Healthy Food Access: Improve Resident Health, Save Site Money

Residents at assisted sites often have difficulty finding affordable and healthy food. Assisted sites are often located in neighborhoods where food options are limited to convenience stores, liquor stores, or fast food restaurants that offer low-cost but unhealthy snacks and meals. Supermarkets, grocery stores, and other retailers that offer fresh produce and other healthy food choices either may be miles away, making it difficult for residents without transportation to shop for healthier options, or may be too expensive for low-income residents to afford the healthy food.

Indeed, low-income residents who try to buy more produce and other healthy food can spend a disproportionate amount of their monthly income on food, making it more difficult to pay their other expenses. They often must make difficult monthly decisions, whether to use their limited income to buy food or to pay other household expenses, such as their share of the unit’s rent, utilities, healthcare, telephone, and transportation costs to get to or look for work, says Jan Kasameyer, resident services program supervisor at Home Forward, the housing authority in Portland, Ore.

Many residents rely on monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to purchase most or all of their family’s food for the month. Unfortunately, those dollars aren’t usually enough to pay for more expensive healthy food and residents have to stretch their food dollars with unhealthy processed items. Facing these challenges, it’s no surprise that low-income residents have dramatically higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related diseases and related healthcare costs than the general population, says Home Forward’s community planning research fellow, Aniko Drlik-Muehleck.

Owners and managers of affordable housing sites are in a unique position to provide greater healthy food access to their residents, says Bomee Jung, deputy director at Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. (Enterprise) in New York City. Many owners and managers recognize how important fresh food access is for the health and well-being of their residents and are adding healthy food access programs to the amenities and services they offer their residents. We’ll tell you how increasing healthy food access will benefit your site and give you information about the types of food access programs you can consider creating at your assisted site.

Farmers Market Stand
Farmers Market Stand

Benefits to Site Owners
Increasing healthy food access provides numerous benefits to residents and assisted sites. Among the reasons our experts gave for creating food access programs include:

  • Healthier residents;
  • Lower turnover costs;
  • Fewer resident conflicts;
  • Improved site security and safety;
  • Lower food costs for residents;
  • Fewer delinquent rent payments;
  • Lower vacancy costs from resident long-term illness;
  • Better economic mobility opportunities for residents; and
  • Improved marketing appeal and community relations for the site.

Many new construction and major rehabilitation developers now include food access programs in the site’s design and planning, such as integrating or locating near healthy grocery stores and farmers markets. That’s because owners can get incentives through financing, zoning, and green design programs, as well as state or federal tax credits under programs like the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and the New Market Tax Credit programs, says Shaina Burkett, Human Services Program Specialist at the Denver Housing Authority (DHA), which offers numerous food access programs for residents of Denver’s public housing, tax credit and other assisted sites. For example, Enterprise’s Green Communities program recently developed healthy local food access guidelines for affordable housing developers in New York to use to add healthy food access to sites that can give them priority or extra points on federal and state financing applications.


The Insider spoke with food access experts and assisted site owners and managers around the country. They identified numerous food access program options that you can choose from to help get fresh, healthy food to your residents—often for little or no expense to your site. These programs fall into five major categories:

  • Growing food on site;
  • Operating or connecting residents to farmers markets and other healthy food markets;
  • Organizing food delivery programs;
  • Providing onsite meals; and
  • Offering nutrition education and community kitchen programs for residents.

We’ll tell you more about your options under each type of program.

For the rest of the article, click here.

(NOTEHere is a version specifically for Low Income Housing Tax Credit sites, which have some specific rules about commercial v. residential space.)

Excerpt reprinted with permission of Vendome Group, LLC., the publisher of the Insider.

Photo courtesy of Laura Berman, Green Fuse Photos and Food Share Toronto
Mobile Market (Photo courtesy of Laura Berman, Green Fuse Photos and Food Share Toronto)





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