Bringing the Research Home

Mar 12, 2020, 11:00 AM, Posted by

RWJF is funding new research that evaluates housing policies. Long-standing and complex barriers keep safe and stable housing out of reach for too many. We are seeking research partners to investigate the impact of housing policies and broadly share lessons learned.

Boy plays at public park.

For millions of people in America, having a home is an obstacle and a financial burden. Too many live in residentially segregated neighborhoods isolated from opportunity, making it difficult to break out of poverty and overcome the adversity that comes with it. 

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is offering funding for policy research aimed at overcoming deeply rooted problems related to housing stability and equity. We invite researchers, partnering with small cities or community-based organizations, to evaluate housing policies in hopes of turning up actionable lessons for other communities.

We Need Far-Ranging Solutions to Deeply Rooted Problems

RWJF president and CEO Richard Besser, MD, explained how safe and affordable housing supports positive outcomes across the lifespan—and how unsafe and insecure housing can deepen inequity and undermine a Culture of Health. Where we live can make it easier or harder for us to access opportunities: to get a good education, to have transportation options to living-wage jobs, to afford and have access to nutritious food; and to enjoy active lifestyles.

Yet, too little is known about policies that promote stable, affordable housing that ultimately translates to lifelong opportunities. For this reason, RWJF is announcing research funding to evaluate existing housing policies for their effectiveness in promoting equity. Because current problems are tied to decades- and centuries-old discriminatory policies and practices, this funding opportunity aims to identify promising policy solutions. Research proposals should foremost address equity and stability in housing.

Let’s first look at what evidence has taught us—so new research can effectively build on, and not replicate, what’s already been done.

To build more equitable, healthier communities, we need to boost people’s ability to afford a good place to live. Housing in America is expensive, and is getting out of reach in too many places. While housing costs have risen, incomes have not. More than half of all American households spend over 50 percent of their incomes on rent or mortgage.

As a result, many live in substandard and crowded housing and/or in unsafe neighborhoods—especially among low-income families. As our colleague Amy Gillman, MA, explains, “When we’re spending too much of our income on rent or a mortgage, that leaves little to pay for transportation to work or the doctor or to put healthy food on the table for our kids.” 

A recent RWJF-funded national poll revealed that large proportions of people from marginalized communities have experienced discrimination when trying to rent an apartment or buy a house: 45 percent of African-Americans, 31 percent of Latinos, and 22 percent of people identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer.

Discrimination is often built into policies and practices, explains Harvard professor David R. Williams, MPH, PhD. Nearly half of black people, for example, say they have experienced discrimination when trying to rent or buy a house, limiting access to one of the most foundational needs.

Deeply rooted in American history is the practice of denying whole sectors of the population from grasping opportunities and building generational wealth. The cycle of poverty persists and accumulates through time. This is why where we live—and the policies that shape them—matter. To buck this unjust trend, it’s important to identify and address policies that shape inequality in our communities.

Who Should Apply

Ultimately, through this grant we want to find how housing policies allow greater, more equitable access to opportunity. We are offering up to $250,000 in funding to researchers who will evaluate policy interventions that address housing affordability, stability, and/or ways to reduce exclusionary barriers. 

We are particularly interested in research teams who will:

  • study policies that are already in place at the state, county, or local levels. We are not looking to research emerging laws or practices.  

  • analyze the policy’s impact on small cities. Although we will review all proposals, we are particularly interested in proposals that look at small cities of approximately 50,000 to 500,000 people. There’s been a fair amount of policy research on big urban areas, but little is known about how urban policies translate to improvements in areas with smaller populations.  

  • have secured data—or have forged partnerships with those who have it. Establishing connections and gaining access to data can take a long time, and this grant’s duration is only two years. Researchers with access to data will have an advantage because they can spend more time analyzing data and constructing the evaluation.

Although RWJF’s mission is dedicated to health, grant proposals need not address direct health impacts or health outcomes for this funding opportunity. We want to understand policies that alleviate high costs or bias, and other barriers to opportunity. We believe that by addressing these fundamental problems, in time, better health and more equitable outcomes will follow.

To understand this funding opportunity, we invite you to connect with our Policies for Action (P4A) program. P4A is a signature research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, administered through the Urban Institute. Since 2015, P4A has funded research identifying policies, laws, and other levers that can support healthier, more equitable communities. 

Take part in an informational Policies for Action webinar for this grant opportunity on March 30, 2020 from 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. ET and start your application today.


About the Authors

Headshot of Mona Shah

Mona Shah, a senior program officer in the Research-Evaluation-Learning unit, joined RWJF in 2014. Drawing on her expertise in research and policy, she is committed to making research more equity-focused and accessible to the public, advocates and policymakers. Read her full bio.

Priya Gandhi

Priya Gandhi, a research associate in the Research-Evaluation-Learning Unit, helps develop and manage research initiatives and evaluations that generate evidence around programs, policies, and practices that can lead to a Culture of Health.