How do racial inequities limit homeownership opportunities?
The racial health gap
Black and Hispanic/Latino households face unique barriers to homeownership that prevent access to the beneficial outcomes associated with homeownership, such as wealth building, improved health, and higher educational attainment. Historically, structural and institutional obstacles faced by racial and ethnic minorities compounded over time to produce these inequities.
The racial health gap
Racial and ethnic health disparities cost the healthcare system and society about $230 billion in direct medical expenditures and more than $1 billion in lost productivity through illness and premature death. Housing and neighborhood quality play significant roles in disparate health outcomes, as the prevalence of housing- and neighborhood-related health conditions, such as asthma, respiratory infections, lead poisoning, diabetes and obesity, remain higher among Black and Hispanic/Latino populations than white populations. In fact, Black children are 1.5 times more likely to have asthma, and Puerto Rican children are nearly twice as likely. Repeated hospitalizations for asthma among children are strongly correlated with crowded housing conditions, high-minority neighborhoods and high-poverty communities. Homeownership confers some health advantages, but because Black homeowners in particular are more likely to own in the same neighborhoods in which they rent, this health advantage is significantly diminished for this population.
What are the key place-based barriers to improving racial disparities in health?
Black and Hispanic/Latino populations with low incomes tend to live in the least desirable neighborhoods, which are plagued by environmental pollutants, lack access to healthy foods and quality health care, and have fewer recreational facilities.
Black households with low incomes live in more environmentally hazardous neighborhoods that have up to 3.3 times the average toxic concentration levels of the average all-white neighborhood. Furthermore, Black households earning between $50,000 and $60,000 live in neighborhoods that are, on average, more polluted than the average neighborhood where white households with incomes below $10,000 live.
Access to supermarkets increases the consumption of fruit and vegetables, particularly for Black households, where fruit and vegetable consumption increases by 32% as compared with 11% among white households. However, Black neighborhoods have two to three times fewer supermarkets than white neighborhoods of comparable socioeconomic status, but two to four times more fast food restaurants and convenience stores, which stock less healthy foods.
Black households residing in predominantly Black neighborhoods receive lower quality health care than white households, regardless of socioeconomic status. Hospitals in predominantly Black neighborhoods have less technological resources and fewer specialists, and those primarily serving Black patients have more negligent adverse events. Physicians in medical settings primarily serving Black patients also tend to be less competent.
Although parks are equitably distributed across poor and minority areas, parks located in predominantly Black and Hispanic/Latino neighborhoods are 3.3 times and 8.6 times less likely, respectively, to contain recreational facilities than white neighborhoods.
Black and Hispanic/Latino populations are more likely to live in substandard housing conditions that create unhealthy environments.
Substandard housing conditions, such as exposure to dampness, mold, toxic gases and lead hazards, increase the risk of adverse respiratory outcomes and lead poisoning. Black and Hispanic/Latino populations are more than twice as likely to live in substandard housing than white populations.
The Why Home Matters evidence series is a multi-part exploration of existing research on the impact of homeownership created by Habitat for Humanity International. Each evidence brief in the series investigates and presents evidence on outcomes related to affordable housing and homeownership while also highlighting specific ways that Habitat’s work contributes to improving outcomes for families and communities.
How Habitat responds
Central to Habitat’s mission is our work of helping families obtain decent homes — homes that are affordable, safeguard a family’s health, are secure, are designed to be accessible, and are safe. This is the minimum threshold for our housing quality, and maintaining this standard (and often going above it) enables Habitat to help families obtain housing that reduces negative health outcomes and supports a healthy home environment.
Habitat’s repair programs offer longtime homeowners the opportunity to affordably address acute housing maintenance problems and improve the quality of their homes. This work ranges from exterior maintenance issues to more structural problems requiring significant repairs, such as roofing repairs to address mold or bacteria growth, or HVAC system repairs that result in improved air quality and reduced respiratory syndromes.
Habitat’s work focusing on serving older populations, such as our Aging in Place program, provides home repairs and community support services to improve housing quality and keep elderly homeowners healthy and in their homes longer.
Some urban Habitat affiliates pursue higher-density developments in areas with easy access to public transit, and they increasingly encourage healthy, active, walking, transit-oriented communities.
Several Habitat affiliates provide affordable capital through community development financial institutions to help homeowners with low incomes finance necessary home repairs, while many others provide counseling on how to access publicly available affordable loan and grant programs to support weatherization, repair or structural adaptation.
Habitat advocates to expand public resources for programs that help lower-income households make needed home repairs and access healthy homes.
Neighborhood revitalization programs at Habitat affiliates help drive community-level change that can improve health outcomes, including focusing on promoting or increasing access to healthy foods and providing recreational and green spaces.