The National Equity Atlas is a data and policy tool for advocates and policy makers who are working to build a new economy that is equitable, resilient, and prosperous. A collaboration between PolicyLink and the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE), the equity atlas is a resource to help advocates and activists advance policies that increase equitable outcomes.
The equity atlas initiative has comprehensive information ranging from topics including housing rights, employment equity, and economic justice as it relates to reducing the racial wealth gap. One particular resource called the equity indicator allows users to chart out how median hourly wages differ among white people and people of color. This important tool highlights racial wealth gaps in wages between those with similar levels of education, which then reflects the existence of racial discrimination and bias in hiring.
To advance the discussion of the urgency to address rising rents and housing costs, the National Equity Atlas released a series of fact sheets with research analyzing how rising rents and low wages negatively affect citywide economic growth. The research found that if rent was adjusted to meet a tenant’s ability to pay, an extra $124 billion could be spent nationwide each year.
Other tools that would be useful for housing advocates included the Homeownership tool as well as the Housing Burden indicator. These break down home ownership rates at the state, region, and city levels, and distinguish which demographic groups have the highest housing costs.
In an effort to build political will among elected officials to increase funding for affordable housing and related energy efficiency programs, advocates in Virginia conducted a public opinion poll that demonstrated the overwhelming support of Virginia voters for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund. Particular support was for programs that address homelessness and allow seniors to age in place, as well as investments in energy efficiency that reduce utility expenses. The Campaign for Housing and Civic Engagement (CHACE), a statewide network of housing advocates spearheaded by the Virginia Housing Alliance and the Virginia Poverty Law Center, revealed the results of the poll as part of an education initiative for state elected officials and candidates for state office in September, 2017.
CHACE contracted with the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University to conduct a poll of 509 registered voters who were interviewed between September 3rd and September 10th, 2017. Questions revolved around the Campaign’s three policy priorities: increasing funding for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, expanding energy efficiency programs, and ensuring support services are available for individuals exiting homelessness. The margin of error for the poll is +/- 4.3%.
The poll’s findings demonstrate that, by a wide margin, Virginians want a full spectrum of housing opportunities for all their neighbors. 82% of voters strongly believe that people who work in their community should be able to find a home there. 56% of voters agree that housing affordability is vital to their community’s economic success. 58% of voters also believe that ending homelessness is an important government priority.
78% of those surveyed said they were supportive of the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, a program that works to preserve and create new affordable rental housing in the state and to alleviate homelessness across the Commonwealth. Respondents overwhelmingly supported the continued use of the Housing Trust Fund to address homelessness (80%) and supported the use of the fund for “aging in place” modifications that help Virginians remain in their homes as they get older (87%).
Voters were also very supportive of mechanisms to expand residential energy efficiency programs, which help families save money and reduce overall demand for new energy. 89% of Virginians favor holding energy companies accountable by requiring them to meet energy saving goals for their customers. Over half (61%) of those surveyed are also willing to pay a 50 cent surcharge on their utility bill to help fund weatherization and energy efficiency programs.
CHACE is a statewide campaign to raise awareness of housing issues, launched in 2017 in coordination with the Housing Week of Action, a nationwide effort sponsored by Our Homes, Our Voices, an initiative of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. CHACE’s mission is to inform voters, elected officials, and candidates at all levels of government on the importance of quality homes for Virginians at all income levels.
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