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How Affordable Housing Impacts Latino Health

Salud America
4.17.2019

Latinos are a rising national powerhouse, but they face barriers in finding affordable housing, which adversely impacts their overall health and often leads to high rates of obesity and other health-related disparities.

The following blog post by Salud America! details the many ways in which the lack of affordable housing impacts Latino health throughout the U.S.

Based in San Antonio, Salud America! advocates for healthy changes in schools and communities to build health equity for Latino and all kids.

U.S. housing is at its least affordable in 10 years.

Certain populations, particularly Latinos, are being displaced from the regions they’ve lived for generations and moving to areas where rents are lower but public transport is insufficient and inaccessible. In 2017, Latinos were twice more likely to live in severely inadequate housing than non-Latinos (2.04% compared to 0.97%). Latinas face some of the highest risks for eviction.

The surging cost of housing and the lack of affordable housing strains the well-being of Latino families. These families already face higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and other health issues. They often live in areas with low access to healthcare, healthy food, and safe places to play.

Latino and all families need affordable housing options where they live. Affordable, stable housing can reduce stress, improve finances, and reduce health problems.

Yet the demand for affordable housing sharply outpaces the available supply.

The Issue of Housing Affordability for Latinos

Little attention has been paid to the impact of Latinos’ low homeownership rate on America’s ongoing economic recovery, and in turn, the future of the nation’s housing market and related issues.

Housing costs are usually the single largest expense for most households.

Affordable housing is defined as that which costs no more than 30% of a household’s gross annual income. However, this measure does not include the transportation costs associated with the home’s location. True affordability is related to the cost not only of housing, but also the cost of transportation from that location to work, child care, family, and healthcare.

In 2017, 36.9 million American families spent more than 30% of their income on housing, placing “cost burdens” on their ability to afford transportation, buy healthy food, and build wealth.

Cost-burdened households will be sensitive to relatively small changes in housing costs and, in an appreciating real estate market, are vulnerable to affordability-based displacement, according to a report by the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB).

Overall demand for rental housing has exceeded supply. Households that rent are increasingly renting for longer periods before entering into homeownership. Both these factors have contributed to a sharp increase in rents across the multifamily rental market. Rents have outpaced incomes, causing more individuals and families to become rent-burdened.

The disproportionate denials and limited anti-discrimination enforcement help explain why the home-ownership gap between whites and Latinos, which had been shrinking since the 1970s, has exploded since the housing bust.

The Importance of Housing Affordability for Latino Health

Affordable housing is a critical element of any healthy community.

Housing has long been recognized as a critical structural determinant of health that significantly shapes health outcomes. Lack of affordable housing has strong implications for many Latinos and greatly impacts their quality of life.

Latinos and low-income families who face difficulties paying their rent or mortgage or their utility bills are less likely to have a usual source of medical care and are more likely to postpone needing treatment than those who have more affordable housing.

In addition, many Latinos live in racially segregated, low-income, high-poverty areas with limited access to fresh, healthy foods, quality healthcare, and physical activity spaces. Sadly, many Latino kids lack access to active spaces in their neighborhoods, according to a Salud America! research review.

Studies suggest the average white family experienced an 11% reduction in wealth. But the average black family lost 31% of its wealth, and the average Latino family 44.7%.

Latino Housing Is Reaching Crisis Levels

The number of U.S. households is expected to grow to 13.6 million between 2015 and 2025.

More than three-quarters of that growth will be driven by minorities, including one-third by Latinos, according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Latinos are a young population, with nearly one million Latinos turning 18 each year.

Six in ten Latinos are millennials. In 2016, millennials accounted for the largest group of homebuyers, and 67% of them were first-time homebuyers, an important element for growth in the housing market.

Latino millennials are diversifying the pool of recent millennial buyers, and have the potential to create a tremendous demand for homeownership.

Hence, future homeownership rates depend on whether Latino millennials can afford to buy, as the Latino population and share of the workforce is growing. Currently, approximately 14.6 million Latinos are part of the millennial generation, the Pew Research Center reported.

According to demographers, by 2050 the U.S. as a whole will be 29% Latino. With significant household growth on the horizon, creditworthy Latinos need access to homeownership to ensure that the opportunity to build wealth is available to all Americans in the decades to come.

The Path to More Affordable Housing          

Solving the challenge of insufficient affordable housing should be high priority at the federal level on down to the community level.

Yet lawmakers sometimes struggle to address affordable housing.

In the November 2018 mid-term elections, voters showed mixed results for affordable housing. Wins occurred in Texas, North Carolina, and Washington. Arizona suffered a big loss. California felt like a split decision.

The prospects for improved housing outcomes are dimming for both the American middle and working classes. Homeownerships rates display greatest disparity after the great recession, as the housing market collapsed, the economy faltered, and many Americans found themselves unable to pay their mortgages. 

According to the National Housing Conference, the problem is greatest in New York (19.0% Latino), New Jersey (20% Latino) and California (38.9% Latino). In those three states 22% of households are paying more than 50% of pre-tax income for housing, while median home values and rents in these states are among the highest in the country. Many cities also suffer high rates of housing poverty not because they are so expensive but because their economies are bad.

This is puts more onus on community-level solutions.

“A lack of federal action and cash-strapped state and local budgets have contributed to the [affordable housing] crisis,” writes Teresa Wiltz for Pew Trusts. “Citizens are showing up at town halls and city council meetings demanding action.”

How can communities find solutions?

Ultimately, we need a sense of urgency about the growing problem of providing adequate shelter.

Government policy should look at opportunities to create affordable housing attractive to young Latino families. Professionals who work with families and children should explore ways to incorporate affordable housing-informed policies and partnerships into their services.

Advocates can step up, too. Just like Sonja Trauss in California.

If we fail to adequately house the current and future generations, we will be shortchanging Latino and all people, cementing the rise of poverty and poor social outcomes across the country.