Housing Habitability

Housing Habitability

What does this indicator measure?

This indicator measures the percentage of households living in homes with basic plumbing and kitchen facilities. This indicator is a proxy for overall housing habitability.

The connection to health

Everyone should be able to live in a safe and habitable home. Poor quality and unstable housing quality exposes residents to toxins, mold, pests and conditions that can trigger asthma and increase risks of injuries. 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.94 Lack of complete kitchen facilities contributes to food insecurity making it more difficult for residents to meet their nutritional needs or cook safely. Without a kitchen, people are unable to store perishable foods like vegetables or dairy, and often purchase prepared food, which can lead to poor health outcomes. Plumbing is essential for the basic sanitation necessary to limit disease.101

Where to start?

Responses to this indicator should be three-fold. In the short term, it is crucial to Improve Healthy Food Access for households facing food insecurity, especially for residents living in units without kitchens or other basic facilities. This is especially true in areas with low supermarket access, retail density, and per capita income and high poverty. Some jurisdictions have already completed food security plans, and many health departments or social service agencies have plans or programs to address food insecurity. These can be valuable sources of data and additional policy recommendations.

In the longer term, jurisdictions should target poor quality housing with policies and programs to Preserve and Improve Existing Housing. Consult your jurisdiction’s Housing Element, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy (CHAS) data, and local homeless counts (if available) for more information about local housing conditions, partner with local community based organizations, affordable housing developers/residents, and others to identify community housing needs, and target policies and programs accordingly.

Without careful attention to retaining existing tenants and neighborhoods residents, efforts to improve housing quality can have the unintended consequence of displacing those residents in most need of healthy community conditions, such as low-income households, people with disabilities, the elderly, and people of color. It is essential to pass policies to Stabilize Residents and Neighborhoods well in advance of upgrading housing stock. Areas with high housing cost burdens, crowding, poverty and low educational attainment, per capita income and homeownership are often more vulnerable to displacement, particularly when they are in, or close to, hot real estate markets, transit, and jobs centers. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have developed methodologies for understanding displacement risk and dynamics in the Bay Area and Los Angeles County. These easy to use tools are available here.

While upgrading housing is essential to addressing this indicator, it can take many years.