Prescription for a healthy Bay Area? Homes for all

San Francisco Chronicle SF Homeless Project
By Keith Carson and Muntu Davis

We all know that home is where the heart is. But it’s also where our health starts. When we stabilize the rising costs of housing for renters and homeowners in the Bay Area through protecting communities, preserving and producing more housing, we will improve the health of our region.

One-third of our Bay Area families with young children struggle to pay for their housing, and nearly 5,000 parents, children and caregivers were homeless in 2017, according to analysis by the Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative. This situation is compounding health risks, and undermining the ability of our region to keep people healthy.

When we don’t have access to quality, affordable homes, our health suffers and we compromise the vibrancy of our Bay Area region. Patients cut pills in half to make them go further. People take on extra jobs and spend less time with family, friends, exercising and sleeping. The stress of stretching every penny increases mental and physical health problems, which is reflected in higher rates of hypertension, depression and suicide.

As a result of policies such as segregation and economic disinvestment, low-income residents continue to be at greater risk of enduring dilapidated homes and displacement from their communities. Displacement has a significant effect on quality of life. Displacement isn’t just losing your home, it’s losing your social network and support system. Ultimately, the impact of displacement and housing instability are primary drivers of poor health outcomes that are concentrated by race and neighborhood — inequities amounting to life expectancy differences of up to 25 years between the richest and poorest neighborhoods in the Bay Area.

Every sector of our region must become part of the conversation and part of the solution. For instance, the Alameda County Health Department co-chairs the regional coalition of health departments, which is working with peer public health departments to identify and support regional housing solutions. In this crucial time for our Bay Area community, we can come together to make equitable and more effective policies and partnerships to protect all residents and create housing for all.

A little known but promising opportunity for leadership on housing is the Committee to House the Bay Area (CASA). This regional table is made up of city and county elected officials, business and tech leaders, housing builders, union representatives and, most important, leaders representing the residents who are directly impacted by the housing shortage crisis.

The members of CASA are working to develop a set of integrated legislative, financial, policy and regulatory recommendations that will be used to create a regional plan to keep people in their homes, ensure homes are safe and build much-needed housing.

CASA members are actively prioritizing issues such as displacement and housing needs to ensure that the regional housing plan works for everyone in the region, especially our most disenfranchised communities. The first step of a successful CASA process is to ensure that residents can stay in their neighborhoods — in homes free of lead, asthma triggers and other conditions that hurt families’ health.

CASA calls this the “three P’s approach:” protection of our residents, preservation of existing housing and production of new affordable housing. Such an approach will put us on track for a healthy region.

The Bay Area is special: People make their home here because our streets are full of art, culture, food and ideas from every corner of the globe, and we celebrate that diversity.

Preventing displacement and addressing the housing crisis may be the most important task in our collective efforts to maintain our unique character and create healthy communities for all. The same communities that have put us on the map as a region also have been hit hardest by historical and current policies. Our communities of color and low-income communities are being squeezed out. We are taking action on housing to improve health and well-being, and we’re asking everyone to join us.