Many studies have confirmed the connections between socio-economic conditions and health. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the wealthier citizens of the U.S. enjoy better health than do poor people and people of color. The most striking health disparities involve shorter life expectancy among the poor, as well as higher rates of cancer, birth defects, infant mortality, asthma, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Although health care access might account for some of this disparity, differences in working conditions, environmental exposures, and economic advantage also play a role.
This is clearly the case in the Bay Area where the health of low-income communities and communities of color is significantly compromised by poverty, substandard housing, inadequate public transit, and discriminatory land use and zoning decisions.
Urban Habitat believes that health is more than the absence of disease. Key components of a healthy community include:
- Clean air, water, and soil;
- Freedom from exposure to toxic chemicals;
- Safe and affordable housing;
- High quality schools;
- Living wage jobs;
- Access to affordable health care;
- Open space and recreational activities
- Reliable and affordable public transportation; and
- Opportunities for meaningful community participation in decision-making processes.
Program Goals and Strategies
To address the fact that low-income communities and communities of color suffer disproportionately from poor health related to socio-economic and environmental factors, Urban Habitat works to achieve the following goals:
- Support the development and implementation of state, regional and local policies that promote environmental health and justice;
- Integrate a race and class analysis and agenda into the mainstream environmental and environmental health movements;
- Advance local and regional campaigns that provide solutions to the root causes of poor health in low-income communities and communities of color;
- Increase Bay Area community organizations’ participation and leadership in the range of decision-making processes that impact their health such as transportation, housing, zoning, and land use;
- Work in multi-issue, multi-sector partnerships with community groups, labor, faith-based organizations, businesses and government to advance a regional agenda for environmental, social, and economic justice; and
- Conduct research that advances the goals of the environmental health and justice movements
UH is currently working in coalitions at the local and regional level to make policy changes in the climate field that will directly benefit the region’s low-income communities of color. If we are successful, fundamental policies would be implemented, to achieve the following types of changes summarized below. These policy recommendations are taken from platforms developed within the Oakland Climate Action Coalition (OCAC) and the Great Communities Collaborative (GCC). UH is a member of both coalitions.
Great Communities Collaborative:
- Full funding for the Lifeline Network to ensure access to goods, health services, jobs, and other opportunities for low-income communities/neighborhoods.
- Orient land-use toward maximizing public transit use, walking and biking, and increases the number of neighborhoods where most residents can get their basic needs met (jobs, school, food, health/social services) within a short walk, bike ride or transit ride (“20 minute communities”).
- Utilizing Health Impact Analyses to advocate for GCC goals in El Cerrito/Richmond and East Palo Alto.
- Clean Up Air Pollution: Reduce air pollution in communities that are disproportionately affected by poor air quality.
- Create Local Green-Collar Jobs: Invest in green industries to create jobs such as energy efficiency retrofits, home weatherization, green construction, public transportation, recycling and materials reuse, urban agriculture, etc. Use local and targeted hire to ensure full access to these jobs for communities facing the highest unemployment and poverty rates, and provide job training and other community benefits.
- Save Money for Residents: Reduce water, energy and food costs, and ensure accessible, affordable and safe public transportation to low-income families and communities of color which are impacted most by rising costs of living related to climate change.
- Improve Public Health: Make public health improvements a priority outcome for the Energy and Climate Action Plan. Prioritize actions that improve public health such as improving air and water quality, creating safe (less toxic and more green), career track, family wage jobs and providing accessible, affordable and safe public transportation) and de-prioritize actions that would have a negative impact on public health.
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