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Excerpted From: Courtney Lauren Anderson, Surviving Gentrification and Segregation, 18 Indiana Health Law Review 283 (2021) (66 Footnotes) (Full Document)
The connection between health and housing cannot be overstated. Highlighting the health disparities caused by both illegal and legal housing laws and policies is an important part of understanding how environmental factors affect health, as well as advocating for the law to be used to mitigate health disparities rather than to worsen them. Past housing laws and present housing policies and practices have segregated neighborhoods by race. These practices, together with segregation and racism, have resulted in adverse health outcomes for people of color. The recognition of housing policies in health is an important component to creating health equity.
Several policies initiated and supported by the government and private entities have resulted in extreme segregation in the United States. I will give brief overviews of redlining and restrictive covenants to illustrate their negative effects. After providing a historical overview of these laws, I will describe present housing laws and practices that result in segregation and, ultimately, health disparities. This includes the Fair Housing Act, Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, annexation and municipal incorporation, and gentrification. As the Fair Housing Act was specifically enacted to combat segregation and housing discrimination, we will review the purpose of the Act and how it has not been realized. I believe that the concept and fallout of disparate impact are integral to understanding the implications. Today, most discrimination falls into this category, so we will talk about the current landscape of housing policies to reveal why--post-civil rights legislation-- we continue to see segregated cities. Furthermore, gentrification presents challenges to unpacking housing discrimination and maintaining and creating affordable housing. Laws designed to expand or contract the borders of municipalities can present very few barriers to deciding to selectively annex or exclude certain neighborhoods. Despite their legality, the aforementioned measures can disadvantage people of color by increasing segregation and displacement, worsening their health outcomes. Finally, I will provide more detail about the danger of health disparities to underscore the importance of including housing laws in the broader public health agenda.
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Health disparities are preventable differences in the burden of disease and opportunities to achieve optimal health experienced by socially disadvantaged populations. It is important to recognize that there are socioeconomic determinants of health that cause people of color to experience adverse health outcomes at much higher rates than white people because the implicit and explicit racial bias in housing laws and policies do not just perpetuate segregation but deepen these inequities and worsen instances of chronic disease and mental health ailments for communities of color.
Associate Professor of Law at Georgia State University College of Law.
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