Harmful effects of displacement and rising housing costs are not limited to physical displacement. According to a recent survey by Alameda County health workers, serious negative health impacts have resulted from the Bay Area’s housing crisis, as well.
The study, which was conducted by the Alameda County Health Department and Oakland-based research center PolicyLink, finds that rates of asthma, hypertension and other chronic health conditions increase as residents struggle to pay more and more of their incomes towards rent.
Kalima Rose, senior director of PolicyLink, presented the data at a press briefing on Tuesday at Oakland City Hall along with Dr. Muntu Davis, director of the Alameda County Public Health Department.
“As you begin to spend more money on housing, it takes away from your ability to do the things you need to do to be healthy,” said Davis. “Housing has been the biggest change we have seen (in Alameda County) over the years, and that has definitely impacted the health of the community.”
The report found that the “public health crisis,” as Davis called it, appears more prevalent in Oakland where more people tend to live in overcrowded households.
With an influx of high-wage earners on the horizon coming to Oakland – where the median renter income is $34,195 a year – people making low and even moderate incomes continue to face staggering rent increases.
According to the report, Oakland has zero affordable units for workers earning the city’s minimum wage of $12.55 per hour.
Oakland is one of several Bay Area cities that will be voting on a renter protection ballot measure this November—also known as Measure JJ.
The health study found the rate of asthma-related emergency hospital visits increases more than a four-fold as the number of residents living in overcrowded conditions increases.
In Oakland, the asthma emergency hospital visit rate was nearly 3.5 times more frequent than that of Pleasanton, and still more than Alameda County as a whole.
Constant pressure and instability related to housing can also lead to chronic stress, which over time can increase the likelihood of conditions such as hypertension.
The study showed a direct link between increased hypertension-related hospital visits and increased percentages of Oakland renters paying 50 percent of more of their income for rent.
In addition, Davis explained how chronic stress related to displacement and rising housing costs leads to higher risks of anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.
The report showed that, as a result, hospitalization rates for severe mental disorders increases as the percentage of residents paying 50 percent of more of their income on rent also increases.
“With mental illness, you really want to have stable living conditions and regular routines that allow people to function with their illness,” said Davis. “As housing becomes more stable and more unaffordable, stress goes up, people find themselves moving from place to place and they lose that stability.”
The survey also pointed out that African American families with children are disproportionately represented in lower-income households, which are more vulnerable to displacement and health problems.
Over 90 percent of the Health Department staff that were surveyed said housing was an issue for those seeking health services. And in some cases, Davis said, people in Oakland have even been kicked out of their homes for having a communicable disease, making it more difficult to receive services.