In The West, Happy Homes Are Healthy Houses

In Brooklyn, a woman tends to her garden plot.
Photos courtesy of CfAD


Move aside techies and smart homes suppliers

—Center for Active Design “healthy houses” are well on their way to becoming the latest trend in real estate.

Developed as an initiative to improve community health through architecture and design, the New York City-based nonprofit is renovating the American lifestyle with its behavioral and active housing—meaning that losing unwanted weight may be as simple—or as challenging, as us Angelenos know—as finding a new apartment.

Springing up in cities from Brooklyn to Perth, CfAD-approved active apartments are designed to promote wellness among their residents. Amenities such as food gardens, street-level bike parking, fitness centers and maintained green spaces are built into each complex and afford both busy renters and homeowners with at-home accessibility to healthy activities.

Indoor and outdoor equipment for fit and healthy residents.

As reported by the American Psychological Association, the most significant health problems impacting Americans are related to stressful environmental and lifestyle factors. Obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and depression all make the cut of illnesses believed to be interlinked with stress. Be it from a sedentary career, family, financial or other extenuating circumstances, when stress affects the brain, the entire body will follow suit.

In Denver, real estate investment firm Jonathan Rose opened the Aria Apartment complex in 2013, offering low-income and working families 72 two-story walk-ups paired with 13 market-rate townhouses that entirely transcend everything we know about affordable housing.

Light and airy, with energy efficient appliances and constructed with eco-friendly materials and paint, the units, along with their outdoor gardens and park spaces, are carefully designed to incorporate the Center for Disease Control’s key talking points on stress resilience.

And because stress has been proven to disproportionately impact those teetering toward the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, Aria Apartments, and other CfAD-approved units like them, possess the potential to shift the working class’ widening gap of mortality rates.

(The Social Security Administration reports that a 60-year-old man in the top half of the earnings ladder could expect to live 5.8 years longer than a man of the same age in the bottom half.)

But as with any social innovation, there are still intrinsic problems that persist within the Aria utopia: Despite its cheery design and sweeping view of the Rockies, crime, noise and (even with its heavily promoted recycling program) garbage overflow all remain thorny challenges among the low-income tenants.

Michelle Obama at an Active Design conference

Fortunately, such problems have been largely overshadowed by CfAD’s ultimate goal of bettering civic health, so much so that mortgage-finance conglomerate Fannie Mae has teamed up with the nonprofit to develop its Healthy Housing Rewards program, which targets low-income housing developers and provides a mortgage-rate reduction of 15 basis points for qualifying properties.

“We’ve come to believe that the building in which you and your family live is the cornerstone,” said Bob Simpson, vice president of affordable and green financing at Fannie Mae, “not just for your financial stability but for your health as well, and this is especially true for very low-income renters.”