IDEAS: ‘Addressing housing insecurity is vital to stabilize families of color,’ doctor says

NOTE from Community Impact Editor Amelia Robinson: This guest column by Dr. Alonzo Patterson appeared on the Dayton Daily News Ideas and Voices page Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020.

With the expiration of the CARES Act a staggering 12 million households may face eviction displacing more than 20 million people.

That is more than two times the number affected by the housing collapse of the Great Recession.

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Once again people of color will be disproportionately affected. Many families with children will be impacted. Addressing housing insecurity is vital to stabilize families of color, reverse the pervasive impact of systemic racism and its resultant multigenerational poverty.

My nearly three decades as a pediatrician in an urban setting has shown me the negative educational and health impact children experience when families spend too much of it’s income on rent or mortgage payments, make multiple moves or even worse, become homeless.

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Research from the New York University’s Institute for Education and Social Policy and the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy found that children affected a decade ago by foreclosure changed schools more often and the United States Government Accounting Office has found that frequent school changes result in an increased risk of children repeating a grade and having lower reading scores.

Furthermore, when teachers need to constantly review and focus on catch up work in schools with large numbers of highly mobile students, all students suffer according to Cunningham and MacDonald in ‘Housing as a Platform for Improving Outcomes for Low-Income Children’.

Recent experience throughout the country during the stay at home period early in this viral pandemic revealed that families faced with housing insecurity and in poverty lack the resources to secure reliable internet services and devices to access distance learning for their children. The digital divide created by where you live will undoubtedly further widen the learning gap.

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A July 16, 2020 article in the Boston Globe, citing work by the Boston Foundation, reports a link between crowded housing and the spread of COVID-19. In crowded living conditions infectious diseases spread readily from person to person which can be a death sentence for the grandmother that takes in loved ones and contracts coronavirus.

NOTE FROM COMMUNITY IMPACT EDITOR AMELIA ROBINSON: Montgomery County has CARES Act funding available for people in danger of loss of housing, officials have told this newspaper. For more information or to apply, visit:

How many of us know a grandmother that would not hesitate to take in family when they’re out of work and get evicted?

Environmental conditions in houses and apartments worsen when homeowners and landlords don’t maintain safe and healthy properties causing illnesses such as asthma to worsen. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and other sources asthma is the most common chronic disease in childhood and the most frequent cause of school absence. The toxic stress associated with hardship can worsen illnesses such as hypertension in adults and increase the risk of future disease for children experiencing adversity.

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Credit: Lark Photography

Credit: Lark Photography

Current epigenetic research is investigating if continued adverse experiences in childhood, such as housing and food insecurity, can even alter genetic material and permanently affect how genes are expressed and passed down from parent to child, predisposing future generations to actually inherit the increased risk for certain illnesses and shortened lifespans.

The answer to housing insecurity can’t come solely from governmental sources. The need for innovative public-private partnerships and redesign of the financial sector that serves as an engine to the housing industry requires a level of commitment that transcends profit. The effort must be rooted in a genuine effort to address systemic causes for multigenerational poverty and disparate accumulated wealth. The health and well being of families and the future of our youth depend on it.

Dr. Alonzo Patterson was raised in West Dayton and his career has been spent serving children in the core of the Dayton community as a general pediatrician.

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