Where we live makes a difference

Over one in ten households in the U.S. spends more than half their income on housing costs – a financial burden that is associated with increased food insecurity, child poverty and a greater proportion of people in fair or poor health – according to new research conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
The annual collaboration, County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, analyzes the factors that influence health, such as structural factors, access to and quality of health care, and personal health behaviors, as well as health outcomes for almost every county in the nation. This year’s analysis, which examines both location and race, has a particular emphasis on housing. The research reveals that in the most segregated counties nearly one in four black households spends more than half their income on housing, compared with one in 10 white households.

Here are some of the key findings:
    • On average, rates of “severe housing cost burden” – spending more than 50 percent of income on housing – are highest in large, urban, metropolitan counties. Rural counties have the lowest rates of severe housing cost burden.
    • “Across counties, every 10 percent increase in the share of households that are severely cost burdened is linked to: 29,000 more children in poverty; 86,000 more people who are food insecure; 84,000 more people in fair or poor health,” the report of key findings states.
    • Housing cost burden and severe housing cost burden are more common among renters than homeowners. Almost half of all renters are housing cost burdened. Severe housing cost burden affects one in four renters.
    • Households headed by black people are more likely to rent – less than half own homes. On the other hand, the majority of households headed by white people are homeowners. And, over the past decade, homeownership rates haven’t changed much, though racial disparities have widened.
    • Counties that are more segregated (a measure of the evenness — or unevenness — of distribution of black and white residents across a county’s census tracts) have higher rates of severe housing cost burden across the board. However, black households are affected to a greater degree: “In the most segregated counties (top 10 percent), on average, 26 percent of households headed by blacks and 12 percent of households headed by whites are severely housing cost burdened, while in the least segregated counties (bottom 10 percent), the rates are 18 percent and 9 percent, respectively,” the researchers write.
    • Low-income families who are severely burdened by housing costs are considered at risk for homelessness. In large urban and smaller metropolitan counties, nearly 1 in 10 households (about 6.7 million in total) could be considered at risk for homelessness.

    For related resources, check out our tip sheet on finding housing affordability data, our write-up of research on the community effects of treating a neighborhood as a patient, and our roundups on abandoned buildings and gentrification.


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