Your zip code has a greater effect on your health and life expectancy than you may have expected, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from the National Center for Health Statistics. “A distance of only a few miles can produce profound differences in how long you are likely to live.” For example, in Birmingham, Chester County, PA the median income is over $166,000 and the average life expectancy is an outstanding 89 years old. In Delaware County’s Chester Township, where the average median income is about $40,000, life expectancy drops to 67 years old.
This trend is true across Philadelphia neighborhoods as well. According to a 2018 article from the Philly Inquirer “in Philadelphia’s Spring Garden section, where 97 percent of adults completed high school, you’ll probably live to be 87 years old or more. But in West Philadelphia’s Mantua, where one-third of the population didn’t graduate from secondary school, your life expectancy is just 66 years.” In Strawberry Mansion’s census tract, the average life expectancy is 64 years old, 17 minutes away in Lower Merion, the average life expectancy climbs to 92 years of age. James Ziliak, the director of the Center for Poverty Research at the University of Kentucky said, “Presenting data like this is very informative because it presents in a very stark way how economic inequality and inequality of opportunity can manifest itself in huge differences in life expectancy.” Lower-income Philadelphians often live in substandard housing conditions and attend failing schools in disinvested communities. These factors all play a huge role in the health and life expectancies of Philadelphians.
The Healthy Rowhouse Project recognizes this problem and understands that housing is social determinant of health. Through programs such as the City of Philadelphia sponsored Restore, Repair, Renew home repair loan program, Clarifi, a program manager, is working to combat these problems. The Restore, Repair, Renew program allows Philadelphians with incomes below 120% of area median income to make health-based repairs and renovations to their homes. By making these repairs, with a low interest fixed rate loan. By making these repairs affordable and accessible safe housing will be preserved in Philadelphia, giving low-and moderate-income Philadelphians the opportunity to improve the health and safety of their homes.
Racial discrimination in mortgage lending in the 1930s shaped the demographic and wealth patterns of American communities today through the now illegal practice of redlining. The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) was a government sponsored corporation founded in 1933 as a part of the New Deal, that created “Residential Security Maps” of major American cities. The HOLC maps were color coded by neighborhood, with green being the “best” or “safest” areas, and red being “hazardous” or “least safe” for investment. The “redlined” areas were the ones local lenders discounted as credit risks, in large part because of the residents’ racial and ethnic demographics. These maps were used by banks and other financial institutions in order to determine which areas were “safe” to invest in and provide financial services to, and they have had long lasting negative effects on the neighborhoods that were redlined.
According to a study, most of the neighborhoods (74%) that HOLC graded as high-risk or “hazardous” are now low-to-moderate income neighborhoods. Further, most (64%) of the HOLC graded “hazardous” areas are predominantly black and brown neighborhoods today. The practice of redlining was prohibited under the Fair Housing Act of 1968, but its effects are still prevalent in cities across the country. The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) of 1977 was put into place in order to help encourage banks and savings associations to help meet the needs of borrowers in all segments of the communities where they drew deposits, including low- and moderate-income neighborhoods (in the Philadelphia metropolitan area a low- to moderate-income neighborhood is considered one where most families are at approximately 50 – 80 % of AMI for a family of 4 that is $43,500 – $87,000 respectively). The CRA was and is crucial in combating the effects of redlining, and has helped to create beneficial changes in the way that banks operate within low to moderate income communities by ensuring that they were investing in the communities they were operating in.
Healthy Rowhouse Project advocates for policies and programs that combat the long-lasting effects of redlining; such as the health of those living in previously redlined neighborhoods. Housing is a social determinant of health, and homes that are not healthy mean occupants that are not healthy. There are often minor to moderate fixes for a home that is not healthy that can help those living there have improved health outcomes. Making repairs to a home with the Restore, Repair, Renew neighborhood home improvement loan program is one way to assist families preserve their most important assets, improve health, and work towards closing the racial wealth gap.
On May 14th, 2020, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, or the NCRC, hosted an event in their ongoing Just Economy Sessions on the proposed reforms to the Community Reinvestment Act, that are being seen as controversial to many as they are weakening the regulations.