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Kent County residents say housing is top health concern

A for rent sign in a yard
David Gales/David Gales - stock.adobe.com
The cost of rent in Kent County increased 36% from 2020 to 2023 according to the health department.

Kent County residents now say housing is their top health concern.

That’s according to a new Community Health Needs Assessment published by the Kent County Health Department. The department issues the assessments every three years. This year’s assessment runs more than 160 pages, and is based on feedback from more than 5,000 county residents, the department said.

In that feedback, housing came up more than any other issue, according to Maris Brummel, a public health epidemiologist with the county.

“People were not only concerned about finding and obtaining housing that’s affordable,” Brummel said. “But also they had concerns about people being pushed out of their current housing.”

The assessment reports a third of county residents live in housing that’s unaffordable for them. That means they pay more than 30% of their income on housing. The assessment finds that the housing burden affects renters most, with rent costs rising 36% from 2020 to 2023. And an increasing number of the county’s Black and Hispanic residents say they were unable to afford to make a rent or mortgage payment in the past year.

Brummel said housing can affect health in a number of ways. First in terms of safety and exposure to pollutants in the environment — such as lead.

“Housing is also a huge, almost prerequisite to good health,” Brummel says. “So if people don’t have a safe, stable place to stay, they can’t really focus on anything else that impacts their health.”

Though housing was the top concern raised by residents, it wasn’t the only concern. People also said access to insurance and medical care were issues. Immigrants and residents who identified as LGBTQ+ especially said they had trouble accessing health care.

Many residents also said access to healthy foods is a concern. Nearly 1 in 5 said they’d struggled to pay for healthy foods, or for any food at all in the past year.

The full report is available online here.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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