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Only 39 rental units available for every 100 low-income families in Georgia
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A sign advertises a house for rent Tuesday, April 16, 2019, along Ivy Terrace in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

Two new reports from national nonprofits and research groups link a shortage of affordable housing with poorer health outcomes, and that correlation is evident in low-income neighborhoods across Gainesville and Hall County.

According to the annual “County Health Rankings” produced by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, “Over one in ten households in the U.S. spends more than half their income on housing costs – a financial burden that is associated with increased food insecurity, child poverty and a greater proportion of people in fair or poor health.”

On average, rates of “severe housing cost burden” – spending more than 50 percent of income on housing – are highest in large, urban, metropolitan counties, while rural counties have the lowest rates of severe housing cost burden.

Hall County surpassed the 200,000-population mark in 2018, according to census figures released last week.

And these consequences are most pronounced in extremely low-income (those with incomes at or below the poverty line or 30 percent of the area median income) and minority households.

According to the report, among Georgia’s children living in poverty, 54 percent resided in a household that spends more than half of its income on housing.

“High housing costs make it difficult for families to afford other essentials that contribute to good health, such as nutritious food, medicine, and transportation to work or school,” the report states.

The rankings examine more than 30 factors, such as educational attainment and access to health care, but housing affordability took precedence in the report’s conclusions.

Hall ranks 14th in the state in the foundation’s overall health rankings among counties, with Forsyth County at No. 1.

“Our frustration is finding available, low income and affordable housing options for our clients,” said Mike Fisher, housing program planner with Ninth District Opportunity Inc., a social service agency based in Gainesville serving Northeast Georgia with educational, financial and housing assistance. “We have money to help, but very few options when it comes to apartments and homes that price themselves within our fair market rent guidelines that our agency is required to work within.”

Meanwhile, the scarcity of affordable housing units across the nation is highlighted in a March report from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, which found that no state has an adequate supply of affordable and available homes for extremely low-income renters.

The current relative supply ranges from 19 affordable and available homes for every 100 extremely low-income renter households in Nevada to 66 in Wyoming. And the shortage of affordable homes ranges from 5,800 in Wyoming to one million in California.

In Georgia, just 39 affordable homes are available per 100 extremely low-income renters, the fewest among southeastern states except Florida.

Christy Moore, manager of Community Health Improvement for the Northeast Georgia Health System, said the known links between socio-economic backgrounds and health outcomes are growing stronger through new research and studies.

“It has been said that your zip code is a better predictor of health than your genetic code,” Moore said. “Public health research shows that where you were born and where you live is one of the most important determining factors of how healthy you are.”

Moore also spoke of a domino effect that can occur.

“If a person is living in poverty, it’s hard to find affordable, stable housing,” she said. “If you don’t have affordable, stable housing and you’re living in poverty, it can be difficult if not impossible to go to college. If you can’t go to college, your earning capacity is limited. If your earning capacity is limited, you may not be able to provide for your family as well as you would like. If you can’t provide for your family, that creates a high level of stress which affects mental health, and so on.”

Moreover, the Housing Coalition report states, extremely low-income families who are severely burdened by housing costs are considered at risk for homelessness – that’s nearly one in 10 households, or about 6.7 million nationwide.  

“The poverty community needs an angel who wants to see families stabilized and living in safety, one who will make affordable places available to those in greatest need, not just the highest bidder,” Fisher said.  

2019 Georgia county health rankings (top 15)

1. Forsyth

2. Oconee

3. Cherokee

4. Fayette

5. Gwinnett

6. Columbia

7. Cobb

8. Harris

9. Paulding

10. Coweta

11. Fulton

12. Jackson

13. Jones

14. Hall

15. Dawson

Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation