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Before the COVID-19 pandemic, notable progress was made in reducing the rate of severe housing problems. However, racial disparities persisted.

Severe Housing Problems

Severe housing problems is measured as the percentage of occupied housing units with at least one of the following problems: lack of complete kitchen facilities, lack of plumbing, overcrowding, or severely cost-burdened. Housing has a strong influence on health, with poor quality housing and overcrowding being associated with higher rates of chronic disease, mental health challenges and greater risk of exposure to infectious diseases—as demonstrated by the rapid spread of COVID-19 in certain communities.1, 2 In the U.S., disparities in housing conditions have been driven by historical and systemic policies, such as racial residential segregation, that have had a lasting impact on the health of communities of color.
Between 2005-2009 and 2013-2017, the nation progressed in reducing the rate of severe housing problems and narrowing gaps. Hispanic-headed households experienced the greatest decline (11%) in severe housing problems, followed by Asian/Pacific Islander (8%) and Black-headed (5%) households.
Despite this positive progress, significant racial and ethnic disparities in severe housing problems persisted. In 2013-2017—before the pandemic—households headed by Hispanic (29.9%), Black (25.3%) and American Indian/Alaska Native (24.2%) individuals had roughly a two times higher rate of severe housing problems than households headed by white (13.4%) individuals.
Amid the pandemic, studies documented that counties with a higher percentage of households living in poor housing conditions faced a higher rate of COVID-19 infection and associated mortality. A large share of those disproportionately impacted were people of color.
[1] Taylor, L. (2018 June 7). Housing and Health: An Overview of the Literature. Health Affairs Health Policy Brief. DOI: 10.1377/hpb20180313.396577
[2] Ahmad, K., et al. (2020). Association of Poor Housing Conditions with COVID-19 incidence and mortality across US Counties. PLoS ONE 15(11): e0241327. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0241327

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