What does this indicator measure?

This indicator measures the percentage of people who own their home.

The connection to health

All residents should be able to afford adequate housing without giving up healthy food, medical care, or other necessities, or accepting unsafe housing conditions. Everyone should have the opportunity to build wealth over time by purchasing a home, which can protect against rising rents and promote social ties and neighborhood stability. When housing cost burdens are high, individuals and families must make difficult choices with limited options. They may experience unhealthy, poor-quality housing (see the policy guide on Housing Habitability), save money by living with others (see the policy guide on Uncrowded Housing), limit use of utilities, skip routine check-ups or wait to seek healthcare, and buy lower cost food. With budgets stretched to the breaking point, households also experience housing insecurity and are vulnerable to displacement from their homes and neighborhoods. Housing instability, crowding and homelessness are associated with: low birth weights, depression, behavioral problems, and educational delays for children; asthma, tuberculosis, and other communicable diseases; skipped meals and medical appointments or medication; social isolation; and loss of political voice. When low-income residents are forced to leave high cost areas, they often leave behind places rich with opportunity, and may need to commute long distances, straining budgets and worsening air quality and climate change.94

Homeownership is the single largest source of wealth creation for Americans and has traditionally been an especially important wealth-building strategy for people of color.104 Yet while homeownership can be an important wealth generation strategy, if done poorly, it can strip wealth.105 Subprime loans and the recent foreclosure crises decimated the savings of many families of color, reducing the median net worth of Latinos by 66% and African Americans by 53% – far more than the 16% reduction for Whites.106, 107, 108

Where to start?

Increasing homeownership requires a range of policies to make it easier to purchase and stay in a home, and to increase economic opportunities so that families can afford a home.

To widen opportunities for homeownership, local jurisdictions can Create Paths to Homeownership, by lowering financial barriers to homeownership, helping families understand their financial opportunities and providing alternative models of homeownership. The initial barrier of a down-payment can be insurmountable for many families, especially low to moderate income families, and families of color who are disproportionally unlikely to have access to inherited wealth. Nationally, the median white household currently owns 13 times more than a median Black family and 10 times more than the median Latino family, and this gap is growing.23 Even a small amount of financial assistance at the time of purchase can go a long way, dramatically improving the number of households able to afford to buy a home and build wealth.

Many homeowners face challenges in paying mortgage costs (especially those due to predatory lending), necessary repairs and maintenance and utilities. These costs can force families to reduce spending on food, medical care, housing repairs, or other things necessary for good health, and in some circumstances can result in foreclosure and loss of the home. Jurisdictions should Keep People in their Homes by providing emergency support or other programs to help reduce costs.

Local jurisdictions that subsidize homeownership can Develop Resources for Affordable Homeownership by cultivating new sources of funding from fees, inclusionary zoning, and other sources. They can also make housing more affordable by reducing development barriers for subsidized housing and making vacant or underutilized land available.

In addition to the housing policies above, jurisdictions should also increase economic opportunities so that families can afford a home. Specifically, decision-makers can craft policies to Raise Wages and Benefits, Build Workforce Development and Pathways, and Develop Community Economic Capacity. They should also help communities Build Wealth, focusing especially on offering quality financial products to allow residents save for homeownership and make mortgage payments.