Housing Practices in California are Widening Health Inequities

by Dipti Venkatesh
3 mins read

The CDC states that “health equity is achieved when every person has the opportunity to ‘attain his or her full health potential’ and no one is ‘disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.’” The reality is that we are far away from achieving this goal due to a multitude of reasons, one of the major ones being housing especially in California. Housing is more than just a place to live, the environment you are in directly impacts your health and access to hygienic and safe living space makes a world of difference in mitigating risk of illness and danger. 


The average price of a house in California was $698,587 as of August 2021, 22% greater than the average US home price. The average annual income of a Californian household was $77,358. Households which shell out much of their income towards buying houses do not have leeway to resist the burdens of job loss and economic recession. They are also limited in their capacity to contribute to positive factors such as regular check-ups and healthy food. California’s exorbitant prices mean that many families, mostly ethnic and racial minorities such as African Americans and the Latinx community, cannot find housing in quality neighborhoods. Low-income neighborhoods offer restricted job opportunities, low-funded school systems, and a general lack of hygiene and safety. Asthma is more prevalent in Black and Hispanic communities because of the poor condition of their housing. Housing instability can lead to homelessness which drastically reduces families quality of life and chance of health equity.  


California is mostly made up of single-family housing units. Single-family zoning refers to a residential area where only one housing unit can be built on a given parcel of land. In the past few years, California has maintained their stance in building single-family housing as opposed to high-density housing such as apartments. The construction of housing could not keep up with the growing population and new job opportunities. Recently, Governor Gavin Newsom passed Senate Bill 9 and Senate Bill 10, in an attempt to bridge the inequities created by California’s old housing laws. Senate Bill 9 “eases the process for a property owner to create a duplex on a single-family lot, or subdivide the lot to construct either a single-family or duplex home on each subdivision.” Senate Bill 10 enables cities to “upzone areas close to job centers, transit, and existing urbanized areas to allow up to 10 units on a property – subject to setbacks, easements, and other development standards as permitted by the new law – without having to go through the California Environmental Quality Act review process.” While these laws will increase the density of housing, it won’t halt problems such as redlining –  a discriminatory practice in which services were withheld from potential customers who resided in neighborhoods classified as ‘hazardous’ to investment – and gentrification – the process in which a poor urban area is changed by wealthier people moving in, improving housing, and attracting new businesses, usually displacing low-income inhabitants. 


Good housing is the basis for health equity and many inhabitants of California are denied that based on their income, race, ethnicity, etc. The benefits of quality dwellings pervade into the future of many families as their chances of illnesses such as lead poisoning decrease and their overall mental health improves. California has taken a few steps in the right direction, but we must go deeper if we want to uproot this problem and bridge the disparities in health equity once and for all.  





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