Healthy Housing & Communities
Trenton’s rich history is reflected in its housing stock, but much of the housing is dilapidated, meaning indoor toxins such as lead, mold, and asthma triggers threaten health—especially for children.
Many longtime housing problems are rooted in “redlining,” as banks and other mortgage lenders refused to invest or made borrowing more difficult for certain neighborhoods based on racial and ethnic composition, according to The History of Redlining. The practice was outlawed in 1968 but remains an example of systemic racism still influencing property values, housing quality, education and employment opportunities, food access, transportation and health outcomes.
Recently, 15% of Trenton kindergartners entered school with elevated lead levels. Lead-poisoned children are seven times more likely to drop out of school and six times more likely to become involved in the juvenile justice system, as lead affects the parts of the brain that controls impulse and general behavior. And while just 23% of the county lives in Trenton, city residents account for 76% of asthma-related emergency department visits.
Housing affordability and stability also affect health outcomes.
Most Trenton residents – nearly 63% — rent their homes. This is in stark contrast to rental rates in Mercer County (35.8%) and New Jersey (35.9%). The average rent in Trenton was $995 in 2013-2017 and roughly 60% of Trenton renters contribute 30% or more of their total household income to rent.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recommends no more than 30% of household income be spent on housing as spending more limits income for other expenses such as transportation, food, health care, and savings.
In “Housing and Health: An Overview of The Literature,” Lauren Taylor states, “There is strong evidence characterizing housing’s relationship to health. Housing stability, quality, safety, and affordability all affect health outcomes, as do physical and social characteristics of neighborhoods.”
Compared to those who are stably housed, individuals who have housing instability, requiring moving frequently, falling behind on rent, or “couch surfing,” have worse health outcomes. Drug use and depression have also been associated with housing instability.
In addition to housing quality, unsightly abandoned homes, vacant lots, potholes, and littered streets are areas in need of improvement. The most current vacancy data shows that, as of summer 2018, there were 3,423 vacant buildings and 2,633 vacant lots in Trenton, or 20% of the total.
Changing these outcomes for Trenton residents will require collaboration and community engagement.