Advocates across the country have long been working to ensure that everyone has access to healthy, safe, and affordable homes. COVID-19 has brought to the forefront solutions that advocates have called for — tenant protections, stopping the sweeps of people who are unhoused, and more — as advocates push for additional, urgent ways to ensure people are sheltered during this pandemic.
For those working at the intersection of housing and health, the link is clear, yet the connection is rarely apparent in the news media. In national news coverage from March 2020, we found that fewer than 1% of stories about COVID-19 or coronavirus also mentioned housing issues like evictions, foreclosures, or homelessness. The news media play a significant role in reaching decision-makers. If the link between housing and health is not explicit in the news, decision-makers and the public may not prioritize addressing housing needs.
At this moment, we must highlight the urgent need to ensure everyone has safe shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic and emphasize that homes are a crucial foundation for a healthy society. As Tram Nguyen from the Alameda County Public Health Department put it, “We want safe and affordable housing to be increasingly seen as a social good — a human right — that market-based solutions will not necessarily provide.” Just like the benefits of education extend beyond students in classrooms to the society they build or how child care helps the families who use it and boosts our economy because it allows parents to work, housing is fundamental to a society as interconnected as ours. Investments we make in housing will create benefits that extend far beyond any individual during this pandemic and beyond.
We developed this working document to support public health practitioners, community organizers, and others who are striving, amid COVID-19, to elevate equity-focused solutions in housing and health news and before policymakers. The guide is focused on shifting the narrative from safety during the pandemic to the importance of treating housing as essential to public health.