Federal Policy Recommendations to Advance Health Equity from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

A series of policy briefs include evidence-based recommendations to help people through the immediate health and economic crises and longer-term recommendations to ensure a fair and just opportunity for health.
Two women care for a child.

The pandemic has exposed a stubborn, harsh truth about life in America, and revealed glaring failures in our public policies.

The COVID-19 pandemic has uprooted the lives of everyone living in the United States and around the world, but the most severe health and economic impacts have been concentrated among people of color, those with low and middle incomes, and people who live in places that were already struggling financially before the economic downturn. The pandemic has exposed a stubborn, harsh truth about life in America: People’s ability to live a long and healthy life depends to a significant degree on the color of their skin, how much money they have, and where they live.

This pandemic has also revealed glaring, long-standing structural failures in our public policies. No one should have to choose between paying rent and putting food on the table and protecting the health of themselves, their families, and their communities. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is working to change policies and systems so no one has to make that choice.

This policy brief series, Federal Policy Recommendations to Advance Health Equity from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, includes evidence-based recommendations to help people through the immediate health and economic crises and longer-term recommendations to ensure all people in the United States have a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. 

The first brief in the series, Improving Housing Affordability and Stability to Advance Health Equity, focuses on how millions of families in America—particularly families of color—are denied shelter, security, and access to opportunity. The brief lays out a roadmap for how we 1) ensure people do not lose their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, and 2) build toward transformational change that guarantees housing as a human right and a public good that advances racial and economic equity.

Key Findings

  • Safe, stable, and affordable housing is associated with better physical and mental health, improved educational and developmental outcomes for children, and financial security and economic mobility.

  • 17.6 million households spend 50 percent or more of their income on housing alone.  

  • When people are forced to devote a substantial portion of their income to housing, it strains their ability to pay for other essentials including health care, food, and transportation.

  • Discriminatory housing policy—including redlining, exclusionary zoning, and many other actions—has resulted in widespread residential segregation and systematic public and private sector disinvestment in Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities.

  • COVID-19 has exacerbated this crisis through job loss, reduction in household wages, and inability to work due to illness or caregiving responsibilities.

Considerations for Policymakers

Keep People Stably Housed During COVID-19 by:

  • Strengthening and extending the eviction moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • Issuing a moratorium on utility shut-offs

  • Providing substantial additional funding for tenants and landlords to prevent evictions

  • Providing additional funding for homeless services and housing providers

Advance Long-Term Change in Housing Equity by:

  • Reversing harmful housing regulations, including reduced discrimination protections including the gutting of the Affirmatively Further Fair Housing Rule
  • Establishing a Presidential Commission on reparations to redress discriminatory federal housing policy that unjustly restricted Black peoples’ access to housing and opportunity

  • Making rental costs more affordable by ensuring all income-eligible people can receive Housing Choice Vouchers and creating new tax credits for renters

  • Restructuring and expanding the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and other programs that produce affordable housing 

  • Rehabilitating, preserving and rebuilding public housing 

  • Improving housing safety and security for Indigenous people

  • Incentivizing state and local governments to address exclusionary zoning

  • Repealing the June 2020 revisions to the Community Reinvestment Act and revising it to promote equitable development and affordable housing

 

Coming soon: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will release policy briefs with recommendations on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and access to health care.