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New data on health across the U.S. shows that high housing costs are harming Americans’ health – and that some communities are affected more than others.


The 2019 County Health Rankings, an annual collaborative report from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, shows that 11 percent of U.S. households are severely burdened by housing costs. This means that more than 800,000 households spend at least half of their income on housing.



Why are black Americans more likely to spend so much of their incomes on housing? One reason is that black neighborhoods were targeted in a process called redlining, especially between the 1930s and 1965. Banks and other lenders excluded black communities from favorable loans and charged higher interest rates on mortgages, leading to higher housing costs – even when homes were valued less than similar homes in white communities.

為什么美國黑人更有可能把這么多收入花在住房上呢? 其中一個原因是,黑人社區在一個被稱為“經濟歧視”的程序中成為目標,尤其是在上世紀30年代至1965年間。銀行和其他貸款機構將黑人社區排除在優惠貸款之外,并收取更高的抵押貸款利率,這導致了更高的住房成本——即使在白人社區的房屋價值低于同類房屋時也是如此。

Redlining is not explicitly practiced in the same way today, but its damage and discrimination remains – such as how banks targeted black homeowners with subprime loans. The consequences of this became clear in the 2008 recession, when black homeowners suffered worse outcomes compared to white homeowners. These practices led to higher foreclosure rates and steeper declines in home values during and after the recession, limiting opportunities for black communities to build wealth through homeownership.


Effects on health
There is a powerful relationship between housing and health. When people pay too much for housing, they must make tough choices between paying their rent or mortgage or paying for food, medicine and other resources that support their health. In 2015, households that are burdened by housing costs spent 53 percent less on health care, food and transportation combined, compared to households that do not spend more than half of their income on housing.


To afford housing, some families spend less on food, do not buy enough food, or buy less nutritious and cheaper food. These families may also live in homes with structural deficits and other inadequacies, where they are at higher risk for health conditions like lead paint poisoning and asthma.


A growing problem
As housing costs have risen, incomes have not kept pace. Additionally, affordable housing is not available to everyone who needs it. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reported in March that only 37 affordable homes exist for every 100 extremely low-income renter households. No state has enough homes for every extremely low-income renter household, which are the majority of households that are severely housing cost burdened.


Incomes are stagnating while housing costs, especially renting, continue to rise. As these two forces combine to limit opportunity, more U.S. residents are at risk of becoming burdened by their housing costs and damaging their health, especially low-income and black Americans.