Poster Paper: Legal Levers for Health Equity: The Many Things We Actually Don’t Know About the Impact of Basic Housing Policies

Thursday, November 2, 2017
Regency Ballroom (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Abraham Gutman, Kathleen McCabe and Scott Burris, Temple University

Matthew Desmond’s research on evictions in Milwaukee has demonstrated how little is known about the basic laws and procedures that structure the housing lives of poor people. Our research took the inquiry further, identifying legal levers that are generally believed to further the social goal of safe, affordable housing in healthy, equitable communities. These “legal levers” include fair housing law, housing codes and enforcement procedures, zoning, landlord-tenant law, housing subsidies and price controls, housing finance, and local tax and foreclosure rules and procedures. In each area, we reviewed the health, legal and housing literatures for public health law research studies assessing the impact of laws or legal practices on health and related social outcomes. In almost every housing related area policy area we found the same empirical vacuum that Desmond found in his eviction work. Basic questions, such as whether and under what circumstances housing code enforcement can improve tenant welfare, have figured in policy making debates for decades but have received virtually no attention from evaluation researchers. For years we have been using legal levers without having more than a common perception of their intended and unintended consequences due to lack of proper evaluation and policy surveillance. This presentation introduces our comprehensive legal levers framework, presents the findings of our review of the empirical evidence, and discusses the urgent implications for public health law research.