The latest edition of an annual ranking underscores something that has been apparent for a while: housing is unaffordable to many people in Lancaster County.
The 2019 county health ranking by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute focuses on housing and homeownership.
It cites American Community Survey estimates showing that among Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, Lancaster is eighth-lowest on homeownership, with only 68 percent of residents — about 135,400 households — owning their homes.
Statewide, Philadelphia has the lowest ownership rate, at 52 percent, followed by Centre County at 61 percent. The highest rate is in rural Forest County, at 85 percent.
"Renters with the lowest incomes face the greatest challenge in finding affordable housing." @NLIHC explores America's #housing crisis and why a place to live is out of reach > https://t.co/x2zRq4EKm8 pic.twitter.com/g3hadTYXBT— HDC MidAtlantic (@HDCMidAtlantic) July 9, 2019
From the @JointCenter most recent housing study:" “if current housing supply trends persist, house prices and rents will continue to rise at a healthy clip, further limiting the housing options for many..."https://t.co/BqWczuJoyz via @HousingWire— HDC MidAtlantic (@HDCMidAtlantic) July 8, 2019
Severe cost burdens
The ranking also puts Lancaster 13th highest on percentage of households with severe housing cost burden.
A severely burdened household is defined as one that spends 50 percent or more of its income on housing. Statewide, the portion of households that meet that definition ranges from 22 percent in Philadelphia County to 6 percent in Elk County. Lancaster County stands at 13 percent, which works out to more than 26,000 households paying at least half their income for housing.
“Severe housing cost burden affects health and is linked to barriers to living long and well,” the report says. “Across counties, increases in the share of households severely cost burdened are associated with more food insecurity, more child poverty, and more people in fair or poor health.”
The report doesn’t provide a specific local breakdown but said that across large urban and smaller metropolitan counties nationwide there’s a racial divide.
The vast majority of households headed by white people owning homes, the report said, with a median income of $56,000 and about one in 10 being severely housing cost burdened.
Meanwhile, it said, for households headed by black people, median income is $33,000, more than half of the households rent, and nearly a quarter are severely housing cost burdened.
Overall, the report said, the housing situation has gotten better over the last decade for homeowners, but not for renters.
“These differences emerge from discrimination and institutional racism in the form of long-standing, deep-rooted and unfair systems, policies, and practices such as redlining, restrictive zoning rules, and predatory bank lending practices that reinforce residential segregation and barriers to opportunity,” the report said.
This year’s report also added life expectancy estimates based on data from the National Vital Statistics System. It showed a range of 75.1 years in Fayette County to 82.6 in Centre County, with Lancaster ranking seventh highest at 80.1 years.
The report also estimated that life expectancy differed by race in the county, at 81.7 years for Hispanic people, 80.2 years for white people and 76.1 years for black people.
The housing and life expectancy measures were not factored into the rankings where, true to form, Lancaster County didn’t budge.
For the last decade, the county has ranked between eighth-best and 10th-best in Pennsylvania on the two main measures.
This year, it landed exactly where it did last year; eighth on health outcomes and 10th on health factors.
Basis of rankings
The rankings are based on factors including smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, access to healthy foods, unemployment, level of education, premature death, low birth weight and air and water quality.
In health outcomes, the highest-ranking counties in descending order are Union, Centre, Chester, Montgomery, Cumberland, Bucks, Butler, Lancaster, Northampton and Snyder.
The lowest-ranking counties, in ascending order, are Philadelphia, Fayette, Cambria, Lawrence, Luzerne, Greene, Fulton, Schuylkill, Armstrong and Mifflin.
The health factors rankings are similar.