Uncrowded Housing

Uncrowded Housing

What does this indicator measure?

This indicator measures the percentage of households that have one or more rooms per person in their living space. This measure is often used as a standard for crowding.1 A high proportion of crowded households can indicate can high housing costs, low incomes, or both.

The connection to health

People should be able to live in housing with enough space for everyone living there. Uncrowded housing can improve mental health including stress and depression; decrease the spread of communicable diseases like tuberculosis; and improve children’s wellbeing and educational outcomes. Crowded housing conditions generally occur when households are paying more than they can afford (often defined as 30% of their income) for housing (see housing costs). Faced with difficult choices, households may choose to save money by living with others, which can create crowded living situations. They may experience unhealthy, poor-quality housing with limited 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.1 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.2

Where to start?

Ensuring uncrowded housing requires a range of policy responses designed to make housing more affordable and stable, and to ensure that residents are economically secure.

In the short term, it is essential to Stabilize Residents and Neighborhoods to protect residents who might be forced into crowded conditions or make other unhealthy tradeoffs to pay for housing. Areas with high housing cost burdens, crowding, poverty and low educational attainment, per capita incomes 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. For residents who are no longer housed, it is also important to House and Support People Without Homes.

Jurisdictions should also act quickly to Preserve and Improve Existing Housing. Relative to new production, these strategies can be extremely cost effective, and quickly improve conditions for residents. 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 other to identify community housing needs, and target policies and programs accordingly.

Over the long term, jurisdictions should Produce New Affordable Housing. Between 1980 and 2010 decades, California metropolitan areas produced approximately half (120,000/year) of the housing necessary to keep costs on par with the rest of the country,13 and have been especially unsuccessful in producing housing affordable to low-income households. Consult your local housing element and Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) for more information about housing production relative to need.

In addition to the housing policies above, jurisdictions should also reduce crowding by improving residents’ economic security so they have more housing choices. Specifically, decision-makers can craft policies to Raise Wages and Benefits, Build Wealth, Build Workforce Development and Pathways and Develop Community Economic Capacity. For more detailed information on these economic policies see: Above Poverty, Employed, and Median Income.

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