Housing Secretary Ben Carson’s visit to Little Rock yesterday provides an opportunity to highlight a recent study into linkages between substandard housing and public health in Little Rock neighborhoods south of I-630.
Arkansas is unique among the states for lacking what’s called an implied warranty of habitability — essentially, a legal requirement that landlords provide minimum standards of livability in their units, such as working plumbing and heat. The Arkansas Times has written on the topic many times before. This study, which was funded by grants from several national foundations, attempts to examine the health impacts of “the adoption and enforcement of minimum rental housing standards for low-income and housing insecure individuals and families living in Little Rock.”
Here’s the full study, which was performed by Arkansas Community Institute and the Central Arkansas Re-Entry (CARE) Coalition in cooperation with the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
Perhaps the most striking finding: People hospitalized for a respiratory-related illness at UAMS were twice as likely to rent a property that at some point has been issued a mold-related violation notice from Little Rock’s Code Enforcement Division when compared to a control population adjusted for demographic differences.
The city’s code enforcement capacities are limited, it notes, and the division is understaffed. Though a city ordinance, “requires inspection of all rental units on a systematic basis, current efforts remain complaint-driven and are estimated to have only reached 8 percent of the total rental housing stock mandated for the five year period between 2012 and 2016. Data show a five-year code enforcement officer vacancy rate of 32.2 percent.”
As for the lack of a habitability law, the report notes:
Research has shown that the warranty can and does work to bring needed repairs and improvement to otherwise substandard rental housing. Data suggest, however, that the warranty is underutilized, even in housing markets with a sizable substandard housing stock and that for low-income renters there are considerable barriers to its assertion. The literature is less conclusive regarding the relationship between the implied warranty of habitability and rent rates, a common concern raised by opponents of the warranty