The Link Between COVID-19 Deaths and Overcrowded Housing

Overcrowding and housing insecurity among Black and Brown communities led to disproportionately high COVID-19 fatalities, research shows.

2 minute read

July 8, 2021, 5:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Suburban Home

TBaker770 / Shutterstock

Data from the Kinder Institute for Urban Research's 2021 State of Housing report "suggest a reason for the racial/ethnic differences in who COVID-19 killed," reports Stephen Averill Sherman. That reason: overcrowded housing. "[A]s scientists built knowledge of COVID-19’s spread, they learned that one needed more than a quick on-the-sidewalk encounter with an infected person to catch the disease. One needed to spend extended periods of time indoors with someone harboring the virus."  

According to research from New York University's Furman Center, "it wasn’t necessarily population density but housing crowding that accelerated the virus’s contagion." Housing insecurity exacerbated by the pandemic increased overcrowding at the worst possible time. "[I]n Harris County, Hispanic-headed households are about 10 times more likely to be overcrowded than white non-Hispanic-headed households (10.9% vs. 1.2%). Black- and Asian-headed households are in the middle (4.3% and 4.9%, respectively). Hispanic Houstonians were also the ethnic/racial group with the most outsized death share from COVID-19."

Additionally,

[t]he types of jobs with high COVID-19 fatalities—construction, food preparation, health care support—are often done by Black and Brown Houstonians. The most recent ACS data show that working-age Black Harris County residents fill 48% of health care support positions despite being 20% of the population. Per 2018 Census department data quoted in a Houston Chronicle story, Hispanic Harris County residents represent 50% of its food service workers and 81% of its construction workers.

Sherman argues that the disproportionate rate of COVID-19 deaths in Houston's low-income households could have been reduced by more effective use of resources such as expanded unemployment benefits, more robust rental assistance, and hotel rooms where those diagnosed with COVID-19 could safely quarantine. "[O]ne lesson learned," Sherman writes, "is that while we share a lot of air with our coworkers and housemates, we are not all in this together."

Thursday, June 3, 2021 in Rice Kinder Institute for Urban Research

Aerial view of Oceanwide Plaza skyscrapers covered with graffiti tags.

LA’s Abandoned Towers Loom as a “$1.2 Billion Ruin of Global Capital”

Oceanwide Plaza, shuttered mid-construction after its developer filed for bankruptcy, has stood vacant on prime Los Angeles real estate since 2019.

May 21, 2024 - The Architect's Newspaper

Entrance to a drive-through car wash at night with green 'Enter' sign.

Ohio Towns Move to Ban New Car Washes

City officials in northeast Ohio are putting limits on how many car wash facilities can open in their towns.

May 16, 2024 - News 5 Cleveland

Ornate, tan stone capitol building with a gold dome roof and low-rise city buildings in the background.

States Are Banning Guaranteed Income Programs

Four states now have laws in place that prevent cities and counties from creating or continuing guaranteed income programs, and several more have tried or are trying.

May 23, 2024 - Bloomberg CityLab

Close-up of apartment rental listing on iPad or tablet device.

Colorado Becomes First State in US to Regulate AI for Bias

Under the new law, developers, deployers, and businesses using AI systems at “high-risk” for bias discrimination in critical areas like housing will be required to account for risks and be transparent about how the technology is being used.

59 minutes ago - People of Color in Tech

3D rendering of blue flying car over a cityscape and buildings, a river, and bridges in the background.

Minnesota Legalizes Flying Cars

A new Minnesota law outlines state registration of “roadable aircraft” and legalizes their use on state roads and highways.

1 hour ago - The U.S. Sun

Green highway signs on Highway 23 for Ann Arbor and Flint, Michigan.

Michigan DOT Nixes Ann Arbor Highway Expansion

In response to public feedback, the Michigan Department of Transportation is no longer considering options to widen U.S. 23 on Ann Arbor’s east side.

2 hours ago - MLive

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.