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Applying an Equity Lens to Greenville’s Housing Crisis

By Caitlin Hay, Health Policy Fellow

When you hear the word health, you likely think of going to the doctor or taking your medicine. You may even consider exercising and eating fruits and vegetables to be associated with health. But for most, this is where we think the contributors of health end. You probably are not considering things like housing as a contributor to health, but many people in Greenville are.

On October 14th, Dr. Megan Sandel, Dr. Brian Rahmer and a panel of housing/healthcare persons discussed the link between health and housing at the Housing is Good Medicine – A Prescription for Healthy Communities Greenville County Housing Forum. Rahmer presented on housing from his community partner background while Sandel gave a pediatrician’s perspective.

Throughout the forum, one theme continued to emerge: the link between race and housing instability. This issue was introduced in both presentations and within the panel discussion. Rahmer even noted that while “red-lining” is now illegal, we are still dealing with its impact today. The Association of American Medical College (AAMC) recently released an article about the link between health and housing, noting that a key factor in addressing housing instability and homelessness as it relates to health is racial inequities.

It is clear that this is an issue from a national or research point of view, but what was more interesting was how this pertained to our community, Greenville. At the forum, the panel was asked, what is the largest cultural/social component in Greenville related to housing disparities? Three out of the four responses said something related to race. One of the most impactful responses was when Susan McLarty with Greenville Homeless Alliance simply answered by listing the income level differences by race in Greenville.

In Greenville County, the average annual income of a white individual is $59,820, a Hispanic individual is $35,794, and a black individual is $33,643. In the 2016 South Carolina Affordable Housing Study, the estimated income needed to afford a house in Greenville County was $53,633, which far surpasses the average income of black and Hispanic populations in Greenville by nearly $20,000. Additionally, the average income is so close to the needed income that there is a lot less room for unplanned expenses like medical bills from a child getting sick. If and when these expenses do come into play, it often leaves these populations with a difficult decision of: do I take my child to the doctor or do I pay my rent, leading to housing instability or even homelessness.

The South Carolina State of Homelessness report detailed that “there are clear racial disparities within the Upstate Continuum of Care’s 13-county region” referring to theoverrepresentation of Black/African American clients in the homeless service system compared to the overall population.” In Greenville County alone, this overrepresentation holds as you can see in this graphic.  This shows the interplay of race on housing instability in our own county

Interplay of race on housing instability in Greenville County

When looking at housing instability/homelessness in Greenville, challenges differ by community. Student homeless statistics in Greenville County show that Blythe Academy has the highest number of homeless students; Blythe is in the 29605 zip code which happens to have the highest black population in Greenville County. The two zip codes in Greenville County with the largest Hispanic populations make up the White Horse Corridor area.  One housing issue in this area is the “BLT shuffle” where students are “shuffled” between Berea, Lakeview and Tanglewood middle schools due to housing instability. Often, this looks like families couch surfing with family members and friends due to not having a place of their own.

ICS has partnered with the Bradshaw Institute for Community Child Health & Advocacy’s Greenville County Care Coordination Collaborative (GCCCC) on the Childhood Homelessness Project. The goal of this pilot year is to develop a deep understanding of the child homelessness landscape and to create a plan to improve family housing stability as well as child health and education outcomes. ICS has identified three communities like those described above to host listening groups with the hope of getting some local feedback to contribute to Child Homelessness Project design. These communities represent diverse locations with differing demographics and challenges demonstrating an understanding that child homelessness is a complex issue with multiple challenges/solutions. 

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