The World Health Organization (WHO) determined a list of social and economic factors that influence a person’s wellbeing and ability to engage in healthy behaviors, coined the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH). The list has been added to and changed over the years, but a core group remains the same. At the basic level, the SDOH include education, employment, environment, food, health, housing, race, social support and inclusion, and transportation.
The SDOH tend to be interconnected, multi-generational, and cyclical. Each determinant consists of subcategories and issues that all require individual focus. The World Health Organization commissioned a report about the SDOH and their causes; it says that the SDOH are often “a result of a toxic combination of poor social policies and programs, unfair economic arrangements, and bad politics.” Addressing the SDOH allows for a broader, long-term, and more comprehensive approach to improving the overall health of members of a population. Additionally, alleviating the stresses of the SDOH allows for more equal social and economic opportunities for disadvantaged groups.
Tackling the determinants requires collaboration across fields and interests, as well as policy aid. NRCDC’s comprehensive community development work addresses people, housing, economics, health, environment, education, asset building, and inclusion – many of the SDOH. In Houston, there are scores of other non-governmental organizations working on solutions for different determinants. We’ll be diving deeper into the determinants and highlight some of the efforts being undertaken to help around the city on this blog.
Environmental justice is the part of the green movement that combines civil rights with environmentalism by addressing the fact that vulnerable communities are subject to greater pollution, contamination, and adverse environmental risks. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines environmental justice as when members of a community have the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and have the same access and ability to be involved in the development and implementation of environmental policies. The most common example of environmental injustice, especially in recent years, has been the targeting of vulnerable, generally minority communities for unwanted land uses without granting these communities a voice during the decision-making process.
Located in the middle of a neighborhood off Loop 610, the CES Griggs Road Site is a plot contaminated by over seventy years of industrial cleaning and waste treatment. The site has been used as an area for petrochemical transport truck maintenance since the 1940s and was acquired by CES Environmental for continued truck maintenance and waste treatment in 2002. Members of the surrounding community filed complaints about CES’s negligence in waste disposal for years, most notably citing numerous instances of sludge and strangely colored materials in the streets after large storms. After several lawsuits for workers’ safety violations, CES declared bankruptcy in 2010. Operations completely shut down, leaving unprocessed, toxic waste abandoned on the site. Nothing was done as site remediation until a series of vandalisms involving spilling waste tanks onto the ground occurred in 2014. That same year, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the EPA visited the site after the community continued to voice concerns about their health and safety. The groups ran investigations and found one groundwater and two soil areas with hazardous concentrations of petrochemicals. The abandoned waste and storage containers were removed from the site by 2015. Some cleanup efforts on the property have commenced; TCEQ is working with the Principal Responsible Partner (PRP) to facilitate a cleanup plan and its implementation.
NRCDC and several community organizations are involved in community communication by facilitating conversations between residents and stakeholders of the effected neighborhood and the TCEQ. Ideally, these conversations will lead to a plan for restoring the site to a better standard of quality.
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released their proposed 2019 budget in early February 2018. The proposed Gross Discretionary Budget Authority for 2019 is $41.24 billion, which is an increase from the 2018 budget but still remains significantly lower than the budgets of the six years prior to 2018. The graph below compares the proposed Gross Discretionary Budget Authorities from the last seven years, adjusted for inflation to match the power of the dollar in February 2018.
The announcement of the 2019 budget was accompanied with a proposed amendment to the US Housing Act of 1937, referred to as the Making Affordable Housing Work Act. This proposed act was altered and rereleased in April 2018. The Making Affordable Housing Work Act includes increasing subsidized rent to 35% of a family’s or individual’s gross income, raising minimum rent to at least $50, and allowing public housing authorities and owners of subsidized properties to set minimum work requirements for tenants to qualify for housing assistance. The act also eliminates some income deductions, including those effecting medical costs, which may lead to greater rent hikes for people with disabilities, seniors, and families with children – groups which make up most of the HUD’s beneficiaries.
HUD Secretary Ben Carson has defended the budget and policy changes, saying that the increased rents will encourage people to work more, earn more, and more quickly remove themselves from government aid and potential dependency. However, there is no evidence at this point in time that links increased rents with higher levels of productivity or a path to self-sufficiency. In the midst of an affordable housing shortage and increasing homelessness, the proposed 2019 HUD Budget and Making Affordable Housing Work Act are expected to further burden low to moderate income earning Americans.
Welcome to the Neighborhood Recovery Community Development Corporation (NRCDC) blog! We will be using this platform to expand upon topics involved in affordable housing, community growth and development, and asset building and financial literacy. Comments, questions, and requests for topics are welcome and encouraged – we are here to help you. Check back Monday for a new post about the recent policy and budget proposals introduced by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).