For NC Poor, High Housing Cost Puts Healthy Lifestyle Out Of Reach

Mar 19, 2019

2019 Health Outcomes Ranking.
Credit Robert Wood Johnsong Foundation / University of Wisconsin Public Health Institute

A lack of affordable housing drives down health and keeps North Carolinians in poverty, according to the latest annual County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Among North Carolina children living in poverty, 49 percent were living in a household that spends more than half of its income on housing, according to the report, which makes other healthy lifestyles out of reach.

"Our homes are inextricably tied to our health," said Dr. Richard Besser, RWJF president and CEO. "It's unacceptable that so many individuals and families face barriers to health because of what they have to spend on housing. This leaves them with fewer dollars to keep their families healthy. Imagine the stress and pain that come with unplanned moves. We are all healthier and stronger together when everyone has access to safe and affordable housing, regardless of the color of their skin or how much money they make."

Taken as a whole, residents in Wake County have the best health outcomes in North Carolina. Those in Robeson County have the worst outcomes. Urban areas tend to place higher in the rankings, but cities also struggle with affordable housing and have pockets where health outcomes are lower.

In total, 14 percent of North Carolina households spend more than half of their income on housing costs. But a deeper dive into the numbers show wide racial disparities. Households headed by black residents are most burdened by severe housing costs at 21 percent, compared to white households at 11 percent.

"All communities have the potential to be places where everyone enjoys full and equal opportunity. But the data show that's not happening in most communities yet. Children of color face a greater likelihood of growing up in poverty, and low-income families struggle to pay rent and get enough to eat," said Sheri Johnson, acting director of County Health Rankings & Roadmaps. "It is time to do the difficult work of coming together to undo policies and practices that create barriers to opportunity. The rankings can help communities ground these important conversations in data, evidence, guidance and stories about challenges and success."