The Hidden Health Crisis of Eviction

By: Allison Bovell-Ammo and Megan Sandel Posted on: October 5, 2018 Topics: viewpoint

Housing is a prescription for good health. Yet, as housing prices rise while wages remain stagnant, we know that millions of families and individuals are unable to afford a stable home. Across the country, public health initiatives to address homelessness through affordable housing combined with supportive services are being implemented. These models are critical for people experiencing homelessness.

But there is another public health crisis affecting our communities: eviction. An estimated 2.8 million households are at risk of eviction. Emerging research on the health impacts of evictions shines a light on this hidden problem lurking in the shadows of our communities. People who are threatened with eviction, even before they lose their home, are more likely to report poor health, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and psychological distress. Eviction often leads to residential instability, moving into poor quality housing, overcrowding, and homelessness, all of which is associated with negative health among adults and children.

Eviction is not just a health issue; it is a health equity issue. Matthew Desmond, in his book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, documents heart-wrenching stories of people facing eviction in Milwaukee. Placed against the backdrop of data showing three in four people in eviction court in Milwaukee on a given month are black, and many are women, Desmond writes, “Eviction is shaping the lives of poor black women, just as incarceration defines the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods.”

The rise of evictions and the disproportionate effect that it has on women of color and their children in our communities is unacceptable. Policies that reduce evictions are necessary for advancing health equity and improving public health across the country.

We need better tenant protections, especially in cities like Boston where gentrification is pushing people out of their homes. Passing legislation like the Jim Brooks Stabilization Act to provide direct legal and resource information to tenants at risk of displacement and eviction will protect tenants from no-fault evictions and major rent increases.

We need more investment in homes that people can afford in the communities where they desire to live, learn, and work. Increasing efforts to expand housing supply while promoting racial equity and directly addressing the needs of residents at greatest risk of displacement and eviction is critical to the health of our communities and our country.

Health systems have a role to play in reducing evictions, forced displacement, and housing instability. By investing in affordable housing and supportive services, health systems can leverage financial resources to improve housing stability. Additionally, health systems and healthcare organizations are also beginning to use their voice to advocate for increased federal and state resources and improved housing policies.

A stable home is the foundation of good health. When people are in homes they can afford in the neighborhoods in which they desire to live, they are healthier. Health care and public health institutions must do more to reduce evictions and forced displacement. All people have a right to a safe, decent, affordable home, and when they have one, we all benefit from healthier, thriving communities.

Allison Bovell-Amman is deputy director of policy strategy for Children’s HealthWatch. Megan Sandel is associate director of the Grow Clinic for Children, principal investigator with Children’s HealthWatch, associate professor of pediatrics at the School of Medicine, and associate professor of environmental health at SPH.

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