New Report Identifies Local Housing Policy Solutions That Can Help Cities Increase Affordable Housing, Improve Health and Racial Equity

August 23, 2022

New Report Identifies Local Housing Policy Solutions That Can Help Cities Increase Affordable Housing, Improve Health and Racial Equity

WASHINGTON, D.C.— August 23, 2022 — As overall housing availability and affordability collapses at record rates in the United States, millions of renters face skyrocketing rents, unhealthy living situations, and the threat of eviction. A new report by CityHealth, an initiative of the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, outlines three policy solutions that can help to increase affordable housing and improve health and racial equity: Affordable Housing Trusts, Healthy Rental Housing, and Legal Support for Renters.

“Having a home is foundational to living a healthy, full life — but across the country, many residents face myriad challenges that can make affordable, safe housing out of reach,” said Katrina Forrest, J.D., Co-Executive Director of CityHealth. “CityHealth’s policy solutions aim to help local leaders address the housing crisis and resolve critical health disparities in their communities by preserving and expanding affordable housing, proactively mitigating conditions that can lead to poor health, and protecting renters who may be at risk of eviction.”

Today, one in four renters, or 10.9 million people, spend more than 50% of their income on housing. More than 500,000 people experience homelessness on any given night. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, America has a shortage of nearly 7 million affordable homes — for every 100 families who need them most, only 37 affordable homes are available. Poor health outcomes associated with housing costs, quality, stability, and neighborhood context are much more likely to affect people of color as well as low income and vulnerable populations.

“Simply put, having a safe, stable place to live is critical for good health. All aspects of housing — including opportunity and accessibility, affordability, safety, and stability — are connected to health,” said Catherine D. Patterson, MPP, Co-Executive Director of CityHealth. “Policies that promote access to flexible sources of funding for renter and homeowner needs, proactive rental inspection systems, and guaranteed legal representation for renters facing eviction can address major issues and benefit health.”

The report explores CityHealth’s three housing-related policy solutions that cities can adopt to increase safe, stable, and affordable housing to advance health and racial equity:

  1. Affordable Housing Trusts are funds that are flexibly designed to address housing needs, including the development of affordable housing units, preservation and maintenance of existing housing stock, homeownership initiatives, and protections for renters facing eviction.
  2. Healthy Rental Housing policies can help cities preserve and maintain existing housing through proactive inspections that enforce relevant health and safety laws. Renters, primarily those who are low income, should have equal access to safe and healthy living conditions.
  3. Legal Support for Renters policies can help cities grapple with the growing eviction crisis by providing a right to counsel, which is a proven intervention that can keep more tenants housed, decrease use of homeless shelters, and help tenants who have to or want to move do so in a way that preserves long-term housing stability.

The report also provides examples of cities across the country that have taken on the affordable housing crisis by implementing those policies.

“Safe, affordable homes are the building blocks for healthy communities,” said Bithia Ratnasamy of Enterprise Advisors, the advisory services division of Enterprise Community Partners, which contributed to sections of the report. “However, it isn’t enough to build homes. Policies, processes, and practices must be in place to ensure we preserve housing affordability, keep homes safe and resilient, and place equity at the forefront.”

Renter protections, like right to counsel, help keep community residents in their homes or obtain long-term housing stability. When faced with eviction, on average, only 3% of tenants are represented by counsel in eviction proceedings as compared to 81% of landlords. Unrepresented tenants are typically removed from their homes and are beset with a potential host of damaging consequences, such as homelessness and incarceration, loss of employment or child custody, physical and mental health impacts, negative eviction records that make obtaining new housing difficult, and paying more in eviction-related costs.

“A loss of one’s home has ripple effects on one’s current and future financial stability and well-being for years to come,” said John Pollock of the National Coalition for the Civil Right to Counsel. “Evictions are complex procedures that are inaccessible to unrepresented tenants, and by implementing a right to counsel, cities can illustrate a commitment to improving the health of the community and reducing health disparities.”

All of these polices are part of CityHealth’s 2.0 package of policy solutions that the initiative will use to assess cities in 2022. Learn more about CityHealth’s housing policies and case studies by downloading the report here.

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CityHealth, an initiative of the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, works to advance a package of tried and tested policy solutions to ensure all people in our largest cities have access to healthy choices. Together with visionary city leaders, CityHealth helps cities adopt policies that can make their communities healthy and resolve critical health disparities — now and decades down the road. Learn more at cityhealth.org.

Enterprise Community Partners is a national nonprofit that exists to make a good home possible for the millions of families without one. We support community development organizations on the ground, aggregate and invest capital for impact, advance housing policy at every level of government, and build and manage communities ourselves. Since 1982, we have invested $54 billion and created 873,000 homes across all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico – all to make home and community places of pride, power and belonging. Join us at enterprisecommunity.org.

The National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel (NCCRC), organized and funded in part by the Public Justice Center (PJC), encourages, supports, and coordinates advocacy to establish and implement a right to counsel for low-income people in civil cases that involve basic human needs, including housing. The right to counsel for tenants facing eviction is a significant focus area, and the NCCRC has supported advocates in most of the 18 jurisdictions that have established such a right and are working to implement it, as well as nascent efforts around the country. Learn more at civilrighttocounsel.org.