Harvard JCHS Examines How Desegregation-Focused Housing Policies Help Reduce Health Disparities

Date Published: 
December 6th, 2023

A new paper from the Harvard Joint Center on Housing Studies examines how the effects of desegregation-focused housing policies aimed at reducing disparities in neighborhood conditions may also reduce disparities in health outcomes. Specifically, the paper focuses on how such housing policies impact the health of pregnant people and their newborn infants by studying Massachusetts Chapter 40B. Chapter 40B is a major civil rights-era housing policy in Massachusetts that increases the supply of affordable ownership and rental housing in higher-income areas to facilitate moves for lower-income households to those areas.

The authors use a difference-in-differences approach that compares the health outcomes of birthing parents who move to 40B housing to those of demographically matched birthing parents who move from similar origin neighborhood. The results find that moving to 40B housing produces meaningful improvements in birth outcomes and some gains in birthing parents’ health only among 40B renters, and no evidence of health effects among 40B owners.

Improvements in birth outcomes are largest among Black renters and are driven largely by people moving from neighborhoods with higher levels of poverty, more Black residents, and higher male incarceration rates. These results suggest that desegregation-focused housing policies like 40B could help improve racial and economic disparities in early-life health among certain populations.


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