Your Housing Can Ruin Your Health

Academic Blog by: Nia Willis

Nia WillisI have a profound commitment to studying and improving health disparities of underprivileged populations through education and advocacy. I aspire to be actively engaged in the learning process, use what I learn in the class to inform how I interact with the community, and use participatory action research to form community intervention programs.

In the United States there have been many foreclosed houses sold by the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), many of which have been unfit for human habitation. Investors bought the homes of Fannie Mae and turned them into rent-to-own (RTO) leases and contracts for deed (CFD). Those who enter these contracts are typically low-income people of color, who often must leave the situation because the costs become too much. In this case they are left with no money and no home, worse than they were before. Problems also arise with the condition of the houses: the homes are old with mold and lead in the paint and pipes.

RTO and CFD appealing alternatives to traditional financing for those who do not qualify for mortgage. The arrangement "allows time to build up savings and resolve income uncertainty" (Jaggia, Roche, Thosar, 2014). Sellers benefit if they wish to wait to sell because the reservation price exceeds the highest offers, and they receive better income than a rental. Homebuyers make a one-time, non-refundable payment upfront, and regular monthly payments with interest until the house is paid off. Buyers are also responsible for repairs. Some urban areas have seen dramatic increases in CFD as low-income families search for homeownership because of the foreclosure crisis. These transactions "lack many safeguards" with weaker legal protections and "no bank, government agency, or title closing agent overseeing the transaction" (Way, Wood, 2014).

Over time, advocates for the poor fought for regulations of CFD and reforms to "address the substandard living conditions, unregulated subdivision practices, and lack of infrastructure" that began to cause health issues in these neighborhoods (Way, Wood, 2014). Unhealthy housing is almost a guarantee of poor health, while healthy housing can contribute to leading an overall healthy life. Healthy homes include a dry, clean, safe, well-ventilated, and contaminant-free environment. These conditions are essential to the healthy development of a child, which has a strong correlation to healthy living in adulthood. Doctors in many states have been warning that unstable homes are connected to increased rates of lead poisoning in children (the editorial board, 2017). Lead in the bones disrupts brain growth and brain function decreases in the frontal lobe which is responsible from decision making (Smith, 2017). In all ages lead poisoning causes hair loss, rashes, and muscle aches. Health issues arise when people are continuously staying in poor living conditions with the lack of money and resources to improve their homes.

The results of Fannie Mae are affecting low-income and minority populations across the entire United States. These communities are left helpless and sick, with no way to escape their unfortunate situation.Action needs to be taken, by both housing regulations and federal health agencies, to give aid to these underprivileged and underrepresented communities. We must find where RTO and CFD are still heavily affecting communities, and work increase financial literacy. We should work to help educate residents on their options for housing, so people will not continue to fall into this predicament.