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Oakland's Lack of Affordable Housing Declared 'Public Health Crisis'

There's a physical cost to rising rents, and Oakland residents are paying the price.
September 7, 2016, 10am PDT | Elana Eden
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Housing insecurity is behind an increase in hypertension, asthma, depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia in Oakland and surrounding cities, according to the Alameda County Public Health Department.

Between 2012 and 2014, Alameda County residents who spent 35 percent of their income on rent were twice as likely to be hospitalized for hypertension or mental illness as residents who spent less than 25 percent of their income on rent.

Children living in homes packed with 10 to 12 extra people were six times more likely to go to the emergency room for asthma than children living in homes that were not overcrowded.

A study conducted by the department and PolicyLink's Center for Infrastructure Equity identified several reasons for these "upticks."

High stress levels—caused, for instance, by the uncertainty of making rent any given month—can trigger or worsen a number of health problems, including those named in the study. Higher housing costs also mean less room in the budget for health- and medicine-related expenditures to treat or manage those problems.

And county employees reported that their clients are increasingly afraid to ask landlords to address hazardous conditions, like mold or mildew, for fear of increased rent or eviction.

In 2014, the county found that gentrification posed a health risk to low-income communities for similar reasons.

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Published on Thursday, September 1, 2016 in SFGate
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