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Where you live is significantly linked to how healthy you are.
Sadly, U.S. Latino communities face unaffordable housing, unreliable public transportation, and a lack of green space and parks.
This limits Latinos’ access to health-promoting assets─medical care, good schools, healthy food, and physical activity. This contributes to health inequities affecting this population.
Fortunately, community leaders can adopt dynamic land-use methods, public-private partnerships, and community involvement to build and revitalize Latino neighborhoods. This can create affordable housing, connection to public transportation, and more green spaces.
The result is health equity─a fair, just opportunity to achieve the best health possible.
News Release (PDF)
Full Research Review (PDF)
Introduction & Methodology. This research review assesses available research on the current status of housing, transportation, and green space in U.S. Latino communities.
The review also highlights strategies to improve health equity in Latino communities. It also identifies areas for future research.
Summary of Key Research Findings: Big Inequities
Latino families are burdened by high housing costs, eviction, and displacement. The percentage of Latinos who are “housing cost burdened,” spending 30% or more of household income on housing costs, grew from 42.4% in 2000 to 56.9% in 2015.
More Latinos rent their homes (54%) than their White peers (28%). They also experience significantly higher rates of eviction and involuntary displacement.
Latino migration to rural areas has led to housing and transportation inequities. For many Latinos, living in urban centers is not sustainable if they cannot afford a place to live or easy way to get to work. This pushes low-wage workers into non-affluent suburbs or rural spaces in the U.S. South and Midwest. Housing is more affordable, but further away from jobs, transportation, and amenities.
Since 1990, the U.S. Latino rural population has more than doubled. This urban-to-rural shift causes segregated Latino communities with high rates of poverty.
Latinos face big transportation challenges, from cost to reliability. Latinos face longer commutes than their white peers (26.9 minutes vs. 25.1 minutes).
Yet Latinos are less likely to have access to a car than their white peers (12% vs. 6.5%), and more likely to rely on public transit (27% daily/weekly usage vs. 14%).
Latinos often report bus routes are unreliable, infrequent, or even unsafe. This is due to historic social injustices, limited city budgets, and too much focus on easing traffic congestion over equitable public transit.
Latino communities lack safe, accessible, and culturally relevant green space. Only 1 in 3 Latinos live within walking distance (<1 mile) of a park. Park-less Latinos miss out on space for physical activity, social interaction, and stress reduction.
Distance is a top barrier to Latino access to green spaces. Another barrier is a lack of street, sidewalk, and transit connectivity, as well as a lack of programming and funding issues.
Summary of Key Research Findings: Emerging Solutions
Increasing affordable housing options can improve Latino communities. Cities and community partners are increasingly pushing for more affordable housing. This can be achieved through easing zoning standards, buying land to give to affordable developers, adding low-income units in mixed-income housing developments, and setting up affordable housing trust funds for future projects.
Localities can help keep renters in their homes with rental housing assistance or repair programs. Rent-controlled units for low-income workers are another emerging option.
Latinos benefit from transport-oriented development in their neighborhoods. These developments improve affordable housing near public transit, jobs, and other amenities (retail, civic, social, etc.).
Successful transit-oriented developments in Latino neighborhoods in California have engaged advocates to push for affordable housing. They also added health care, child care, and plaza space, promoted public art, and formed groups to protect community interests.
Improving public transportation can improve Latino quality of life. People who live in walkable, bikable, transit-oriented communities have increased employment rates and physical activity. They also have less weight gain, traffic injuries, poverty, and air pollution exposure.
Local groups can improve equity in public transit. Options includes income-based bus fare reductions, improved scheduling, routing improvements, and “complete streets” priorities. This can better connect Latinos to neighborhoods, jobs, medical care, and schools.
Green space initiatives that account for community needs can improve Latino physical and mental health. Latino kids who interact with nature early in life have cognitive changes, which improve behavioral development. When green space is accessible in Latino neighborhoods, Latino kids are more physically active in parks.
Green space initiatives are effective when they meet Latino community needs. Needs include using a community park as a hub for neighborhood events, social services, and connections to healthcare, repurposing vacant lots into play spaces, and creating greenways as safe routes to school, public transit.
Latino community involvement is key to neighborhood development, revitalization, and environmental justice. For successful green space and housing revitalization, community and multi-sector engagement is important.
Development is most successful when “cultural brokers” translate or amplify local the needs of working-class Latinos and immigrants to mainstream groups. Regular meetings in community settings and door-to-door and social media outreach are vital.
Conclusions & Policy Implications. Latinos are dependent upon public transportation and affordable housing. In urban areas, transit-oriented development would benefit Latino communities if structured in a way that expands affordable housing options and limits the risk of gentrification, so that Latinos in the community can maintain their social and cultural networks while gaining access to high-quality public transportation.
Addition of green space and sustainable transportation options such as greenways and bike paths would further improve connectivity of communities. This also would increase recreational space for children and adults, and improve the physical and psychological well-being of all residents.
A common theme is the need for community activism to ensure that development projects consider the concerns and desires of Latino residents when implementing affordable housing, public transportation, and green spaces.
With proper political will and community activism, change is possible.
Future Research Needs. More research is needed to better understand the needs and strengths of smaller, rural Latino communities regarding housing, transportation, and green space. This ensures equitable neighborhood development for this new, growing population segment.
Further research is also needed on how to best organize activism within Latino communities that include native-born individuals and newly immigrated populations.
About the Authors
- Amelie G. Ramirez, Dr.P.H., Director, Salud America!, Professor, Institute for Health Promotion Research, UT Health San Antonio
- Rosalie Aguilar, M.S., Project Coordinator, Salud America!, Institute for Health Promotion Research, UT Health San Antonio
- Amanda Merck, M.P.H., Research Area Specialist, Salud America!, Institute for Health Promotion Research, UT Health San Antonio
- Pramod Sukumaran, Ph.D., Research Area Specialist, Salud America!, Institute for Health Promotion Research, UT Health San Antonio
- Caroline Gamse, Ph.D., CG Medical Works, L.L.C.
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