Safe and affordable housing is the foundation of good health; it is essential to people’s ability to thrive in school and work and is necessary to build strong families and communities. Housing markets and policies in the United States have failed to provide enough affordable and healthy housing, and they address the housing shortage with perhaps the most cruel and unequal of legal practices: eviction. The Princeton University Eviction Laboratory estimates that landlords file 3.7 million evictions each year, causing a sheriff to force many people out of their homes. Other families move on their own after an eviction threat, as an eviction request would substantially hamper their future home searches. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the eviction as a public health crisis and exacerbated the problem. Governments responded with eviction moratoriums. Now, as these federal, state and local pardons expire or are revoked by the courts, early research indicates an association between the return of evictions and more Covid-19 cases and deaths.1
Eviction has direct health effects, including increasing hospitalization rates among children and increasing depression and anxiety among adults.2 Eviction also harms the health and social connection of communities. When there is high turnover in a neighborhood, residents are less likely to feel involved in their community and the community’s ability to thrive and provide a supportive living environment is weakened. There are also eviction-related costs for organizations providing emergency services, as people who are homeless or moving into unsafe housing are more likely to use emergency medical, food, and other services than individuals. with stable living arrangements.
We believe that the level of eviction in the United States is cruel, unsanitary, and inefficient. It is also a symptom of broader and interconnected diseases: structural racism, huge economic inequality and the commodification of housing, which have resulted in a broken system of laws, policies and practices that affect affordability, stability, quality. and fair housing. Black tenants are more likely than white tenants to face eviction.2 Segregation, which tends to cause blacks to live in less affordable and lower-quality housing than whites, continues to be perpetuated by politics. Exclusionary zoning across the country limits the construction of affordable multi-unit housing in opportunity neighborhoods, which have been described by economist Raj Chetty. By legal design and in operation, the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program has financed most of its units in poor or transitional neighborhoods. Federal voucher programs (like the Section 8 program) can help people get healthier homes, but they haven’t received enough funding and have never reached more than a fraction of eligible families. Housing discrimination has been illegal for decades under the Fair Housing Act, but agencies still process tens of thousands of complaints each year, and 45% of black people report experiencing housing discrimination.3 Affordability is a function of not just housing costs, but also consumer wealth and income. Due to generations of systematic and legally sanctioned discrimination,Room Black Americans enter the housing market less able to pay reasonable rents for high-quality homes than white Americans.
Increase the cost of eviction for landlords, for example, by providing free lawyers to low-income tenants (and thus forcing landlords’ lawyers to litigate rather than simply showing up for eviction hearings) or Increasing eviction filing fees could help reduce occasional expenses. the use of eviction as standard business practice. But these measures aimed at reducing eviction rates address the symptom without addressing the broader problem of a broken housing system.
System-level problems require multifaceted solutions, including those that recognize that the drivers of affordability are not the same in all cities, or in cities, as they are in suburban and rural areas. However, some demand-side interventions could help now. Putting more money in tenants’ pockets could help them pay for market rents. Fully funding Section 8 and removing barriers to use of the program would help millions of people. Raising local minimum wages to a level sufficient to keep housing costs at 30% of income is another tool. Like the Earned Income Tax Credit, the temporary Child Tax Credit and other Covid-related measures have lowered the poverty rate. Making more changes to tax and spending policies with the goal of expanding the middle class would help many people get and keep a home. Given the abject failure of the market in this area, regulatory actions to stabilize housing and rental prices are justified. Legal tools range from rent stabilization laws (such as California law limiting rent increases) and just cause eviction laws (such as a New Jersey law that allows landlords to evict tenants for just one of the reasons specified in the law) up to limits on Airbnb-type vacation rentals in high-tourism cities.
Of course, supporting increased demand without taking additional steps to stimulate supply is not a durable solution. There seems to be a consensus that government policies have not supported the construction of affordable housing in the areas where it is most needed and where it is most likely to promote economic and social mobility. Planning is important, because housing must be linked to schools, transportation, and environmental stewardship, but much of what goes through planning in the United States focuses on maintaining economic and racial segregation by excluding multi-family buildings with units affordability of large swaths of the suburbs and affluent urban enclaves. From Montgomery County, Maryland, to Seattle, Washington, there are examples of jurisdictions that dismantle barriers to integrated and affordable development, but not enough. The Biden administration’s reinstatement of much of the Fair Housing Affirmative Promotion rule of 2015 was an important step in helping, or, if necessary, compelling state and local governments to increase access to healthy housing. and equitable.
Strong public policies are important, but they must be accompanied by public funding at the level we’ve seen in response to Covid-19. Financing housing vouchers for everyone who needs them would cost approximately $ 60 billion per year for the next 10 years.5 A similar amount is needed to repair existing public housing. Given the level of demand, America should be experiencing a housing boom, but the government will have to prime the pump and push the market to build the right kinds of units in the right places. Substantial and sustained federal investment will require major changes in budgeting decisions and resource allocation, starting with significantly reducing the ill-conceived mortgage interest deduction, which benefits homeowners who obtain mortgages, but not renters, or replacing them with a mortgage related to the home. tax credit that would provide benefits more equitably.5
As long as rents remain too high, incomes too low, and segregation too common, the housing system will continue to fail too many people. The imperative is to use housing policy to support health equity, thus making America a place where all people can have safe and affordable housing in integrated neighborhoods with access to basic services and a decent opportunity for social mobility. Achieving this goal will require substantial and systemic changes, not only in laws, policies, and budgets, but also in attitudes and priorities. Too often, housing is seen as a commodity or a business, rather than a social determinant of health. A national recognition of housing as a fundamental need could catalyze the changes necessary to ensure that everyone has a safe and stable home, an essential element for health.