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Her apartment might have put her son's health at risk. But 'I have nowhere else to go'

Renuka Rayasam and Fred Clasen-Kelly, Kaiser Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

ATLANTA — When Louana Joseph’s son had a seizure because of an upper respiratory infection in July, she abandoned the apartment her family had called home for nearly three years.

She suspected the gray and brown splotches spreading through the apartment were mold and had caused her son’s illness. Mold can trigger and exacerbate lung diseases such as asthma and has been linked to upper respiratory tract conditions.

But leaving the two-bedroom Atlanta apartment meant giving up a home that rented for less than $1,000 a month, a price that is increasingly hard to find even in the nation’s poorest neighborhoods.

“I am looking everywhere,” said Joseph, who is 33. “Right now, I can’t afford it.”

Since then, Joseph, her 3-year-old son and her infant daughter have teetered on the edge of homelessness. They have shuffled between sleeping in an extended-stay motel and staying with relatives, unsure when they might find a permanent place to live.

A nationwide affordable housing crisis has wreaked havoc on the lives of low-income families, like Joseph’s, who are close to the brink. Their struggle to stay a step ahead of homelessness is often invisible.

 

Rents soared during the pandemic, exacerbating an already-severe shortage of available housing in most U.S. cities. The result will be growing numbers of people stuck in substandard housing, often with environmental hazards that put them at higher risk for asthma, lead poisoning and other medical conditions, according to academic researchers and advocates for people with low incomes. These residents’ stress levels are heightened by the difficulties they face paying rent.

“People are living in despair and hopelessness,” said Ma’ta Crawford, a member of the Greenville County Human Relations Commission in Greenville, South Carolina, who works with families living in extended-stay motels.

Housing instability — such as having trouble paying rent, living in crowded conditions or moving frequently — can have negative consequences on health, according to the federal Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. In addition to potentially facing environmental risks, people who struggle with housing insecurity put off doctor visits, can’t afford food, and have trouble managing chronic conditions.

Losing a home can also trigger a mental health crisis. The suicide rate doubled from 2005 to 2010, when foreclosures, including those on rental properties, were historically high, according to a 2014 analysis, published in the American Journal of Public Health, that looked at 16 states.

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©2022 Kaiser Health News. Visit khn.org. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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