Last year, Housing Virginia began studying the relationship between housing, health, and community in the Williamsburg, Virginia region. These efforts, made possible by the Williamsburg Health Foundation, are part of its mission to connect housing needs with other important socioeconomic issues.
When possible, Housing Virginia uses local-level geographic data to show such issues “up close and personal,” and to illustrate the need for targeted, specific solutions. In this case, demonstrating linkages between housing and health will provide community advocates, providers, and decision makers the information needed to implement “preventative medicine” that improves living conditions for everyone in the community.
Physical condition of the home: Accessibility, lead exposure, inadequate cooling or heating.
Quality of community: Public spaces for physical activity, walkability, access to healthy food.
Housing affordability: Cost burden, threat of foreclosure or eviction, housing insecurity.
These concepts help to frame Housing Virginia’s research and final recommendations.
Housing Virginia’s analysis encompasses the City of Williamsburg, James City County, and York County. These localities have experienced surging population growth over the past decade, especially among the senior population. The number of persons over 65 increased by 78% from 2000 to 2014. One in five seniors live alone, and four in five live in single-family detached homes. Helping seniors “age in place” – and not letting them become “stuck in place” – will be an important priority in the near future.
While the region has a lower poverty rate and a smaller share of housing cost burdened households than the state average, these socioeconomic problems are not evenly distributed. For example, the poverty rate in Williamsburg (20.5%) is over double that of both James City (8.5%) and York counties (6.2%). Six out of the region’s 28 census tracts have poverty rates above 15%. Not surprisingly, these areas correspond closely with housing cost burden.
The Williamsburg region is, on average, just as healthy or healthier than Virginia as a whole. But for a significant portion of the population, quality healthcare remains out of reach. Over 11,000 adults in the region could not afford a doctor’s visit in 2013, and nearly 10,000 residents live in “low-income, low-food access” census tracts – more commonly known as food deserts. The region’s average life expectancy is 80.6 years, but ranges from 74 to 86 depending on neighborhood.
As this scatterplot shows, life expectancy declines as the prevalence of housing cost burden increases.
The disparity in life expectancy is highly pronounced in the distribution of the region’s affordable housing. Nearly 80% of the 483 households using housing vouchers are in neighborhoods with life expectancy below 80 years. Over three in five of the 1,300 families living in Low-Income Housing Tax Credit or public housing units are in areas with below-average life expectancies.
What can local leaders do to improve the health of all citizens – and not just those who already have the means to afford a good home and decent care? To make homes safer, localities can invest in weatherization and home accessibility modifications for low-income seniors. To create healthy spaces, planners can prioritize walkability and encourage affordable housing in amenity-rich areas. And to reduce housing insecurity, localities can create trust funds and back supportive housing programs.
There are many other programs and strategies available, and the correct “prescription” should be the result of due diligence by local policymakers. But perhaps most importantly, stakeholders should recognize that these problems are all related, and work collaboratively to make efficient use of limited resources.
In March, Housing Virginia presented these findings and a series of preliminary recommendations to the Williamsburg Health Foundation Board of Trustees. Our final report, which will be released in the next few weeks, will precede a series of community meetings in the Williamsburg region. There, local officials and practitioners will have the opportunity to examine this research, discuss where the greatest needs exist, and develop collective solutions to solve these complex issues.
By Jonathan Knopf, Senior Associate, Research + Programs, Housing Virginia.
Housing Virginia is a broad based, statewide partnership of public and private organizations and committed individuals. We believe that all Virginians should have access to high quality, affordable housing in suitable locations. Housing Virginia exists to address the large-scale housing issues that we face by: Informing discussions with current, reliable data and information about housing affordability; Connecting the dots about the consequences of having unmet housing needs; Unlocking housing opportunities by creating an unparalleled pipeline of housing news and information.
GNOFHAC posted on their Facebook page about the event: We laughed so we wouldn’t cry about the conditions so many renters live with in this great city. Lesson learned: We have to stop asking why people don’t leave bad rentals, because often they can’t. We have to start asking why landlords aren’t doing what they should be doing. Stay in touch so those trapped in bad deals with slumlords know they don’t have to stand alone.
Co-producing similar event is part of what Bring Your Own has been doing since it was founded in 2012. In 2016, they co-produced events on worker justice, jobs and healthcare. Bring Your Own is a live storytelling pop-up series that takes intimate spaces within the New Orleans community. Each month, seven storytellers have seven minutes to respond to a theme. Stories are told live, unscripted, and true to the teller. Storytellers volunteer prior to the event and are judged by three audience members to determine a winner, whose story is guaranteed for radio production. Winners subsequently choose the next month’s theme. Bring Your Own is a production of Laine Kaplan-Levenson.
GNOFHAC is a nonprofit civil rights organization established in 1995 to eradicate housing discrimination. GNOFHAC’s work throughout Louisiana includes education, investigation and enforcement activities. GNOFHAC is dedicated to fighting housing discrimination because it is an illegal and divisive force that perpetuates poverty, segregation, ignorance, fear and hatred.
According to their website the Radical Arts and Healing Collective (RAHC) “officially” started in January 2016. At co-founding core member Ann-Meredith’s Upper 9th Ward home, they broke bread and drank spicy hot chocolate to begin dreaming, scheming and visioning an intersectional, intergenerational, multiracial arts and healing centered community space rooted in New Orleans, intended to serve the greater Gulf South and beyond to promote transformative and healing justice as well as self-determination through art as a tool to interrupt and transform deep roots of injustice.
By working together, these three organizations were able to use the art of storytelling, a little competition in a creative space making the message and learning about the housing conditions in New Orleans more impactful.
Note: GNOFHAC is part of a coalition, Healthy Homes Coalition, that has pushed for action on these issues. They have successfully gotten an ordinance introduced by the New Orleans city council. The Healthy Homes Ordinance is in process of being voted on at the writing of this piece.
For more information please contact Monika Gerhart-Hambrick, Director of Policy and Communications at GNOFHAC firstname.lastname@example.org
To support a local ballot measure for affordable homes in Portland, Oregon, members of the Welcome Home Coalition have developed a smart-phone friendly game intended to engage audiences that otherwise might not connect affordable housing as a solution to homelessness.
Click on the image to experience the game.
The game, Can you Solve It?, takes the player for a stroll on a sidewalk. Along the way, players pass people, young and old, all of whom are experiencing homelessness. As the player passes, she can choose to give people items such as a few dollars, a soda, bus tickets, and other useful gifts, or even just say hello or have a nice day. As the game progresses, signs for Yes for Affordable Homes start appearing on the walls next to the sidewalk. When the player clicks three times on the signs for more affordable homes, all the sudden the scenario of changes, illustrating for the player importance of funding affordable homes and the transformative impact an affordable home can have on families and individuals.
“We wanted to create a new tool to connect to a broader audience and engage them through their phone or computer as an active participant in being part of the solution: creating more affordable housing,” says James Moore, the game developer.
Play the game and experience for yourself — and when you solve it, share it with your family, friends, and Facebook community! Contact the creators to add your local ballot measure campaign to the list and get a unique link to share with your community too!
The Washington Housing Alliance Action Fund, a C4 associated with the Washington Housing Alliance, has initiated “How To Be a Housing Voter”. When explaining why the Action Fund is doing electoral work, Director of Organizing Theresa Clark said, “We are excited about the potential power that is unlocked when low-income residents of affordable homes and those who are housing insecure get out and vote.”
“How To Be a Housing Voter” makes the issue clear: advocating for affordable housing and an end to homelessness is made more effective when community members who care about and are impacted by these issues are active and regular voters. Elected officials and candidates know who votes and who doesn’t. The more engaged a community is, and the more often they vote, the higher a priority they become.
The “How To Be a Housing Voter” project is dedicated to registering residents living in affordable homes and community members experiencing homelessness to vote and encourage people to turn in their ballot. The Housing Action Fund does this is by working with member organizations and partners to create Voter Engagement Plans.
Voter Engagement Plans have the following components:
1. Voter Registration and Engagement
• Register new voters
• Update voter registrations
• Educate community members about their voting rights
• Support the Housing Action Fund’s door knocking efforts at one or more residential properties
2. Pledge to Vote Postcard Campaign
Securing pledge-to-vote cards from affordable housing community members who are registered to vote, in order to demonstrate to elected officials that these communities are engaged and care about the issues, particularly policy decisions impacting housing and homelessness.
3. Get Out the Vote (GOTV)
GOTV engages newly registered voters and lapsed voters to mail in their ballots.
• Reminders: email, postcard, signage, etc.
• Events: ballot parties, phone banks, community canvasses, and more.
The voter project is a perfect fit with the Resident Action Project (RAP) in that present resident leaders are volunteering to do voter registration that gives them the opportunity to talk with new voters about once they vote, through RAP, they can be involved in holding elected officials accountable. Teresa explains, “Our role at the Action Fund and RAP is to bring the opportunities to be engaged right to where the residents are at, home. We can use the time to educate them about the issues, such as the recent Seattle levy or the upcoming Vancouver levy. We can talk with folks about what is possible if we all vote.”
The Action Fund and RAP’s plan for engaging voters after the election is using the “pledge to vote” cards in multiple ways: 1) it is sent back to the voter as a reminder to vote, 2) it is a way to track the power of housing voters, and 3) it will be used to civic engagement year round. The cards have the voters contact information and the following check boxes: I live in subsidized housing, I experienced or am experiencing homelessness, I’m on a non-profit board, I’m interesting in volunteering. Depending on the boxes checked the voter will be contacted to become active in RAP, the Housing Alliance, and the volunteer opportunities available.
Check out the elements of this exciting work to engage the public and encourage voting: http://housingactionfund.org/how-be-housing-voter. One their page you can find ways to volunteer for phone banks, canvassing, participating in candidate forums and other volunteer activities as well.
The Action Fund works to support organizations and partners to empower every eligible housing resident and community member experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity, to register to vote and further engage in civic opportunities.