Housing, History & Health



This learning module is part of the VCU History and Health: Racial Equity series, which seeks to build a foundational awareness of health equity, diversity, equity and inclusion concepts across the entire VCU and VCU Health community.  Additional program events occur monthly. Learn more about the Program here.

Learning Objectives

  • Increase  awareness of the history of housing segregation in  Richmond and its impact on race-based  health disparities.
  • Increase awareness of the ways in which structural racism has played a role in health disparities in Richmond.

Housing has important ramifications on one’s health. More specifically, housing stability, quality, safety, and affordability all affect health outcomes, as do physical and social characteristics of neighborhoods. 

It’s not by coincidence that minority communities frequently suffer the worst of these factors. Historical policies, such as redlining and restrictive covenants, have reinforced inequities. Richmond is no exception. Residents of affluent, majority-white neighborhoods, such as Westover Hills, have more than a 20 year increased lifespan over members of majority Black communities, such as Gilpin. Yet, they are separated by no more than 7 miles. 

The materials below can be reviewed in less than an hour, and users are encouraged to review the materials in the order they are presented. 

NOTE: Users who are pursuing the Unlocking Health Equity badge or credit through the VCUHS DEI learning requirement must complete and submit the Reflection Activity at the bottom of the page.

Learning Material


The article below describes four pathways through which a person’s housing can impact their health. These include the impact of not having a stable home, the impact of conditions inside the home, the impact of financial burdens that result from high-cost housing, and the impact of the neighborhood characteristics. Read the short article below to understand the connections between housing and health.

Housing and Health: Literature Overview from Health Affairs

In Richmond and around the United States, the history of racial segregation has played a role in determining the quality of housing for Black Americans. Federal and state laws that supported a practice called redlining ensured that neighborhoods stayed segregated by race and that the quality of houses in Black communities remained lower than that in White communities. Watch the 6-minute video linked below to understand of how redlining in the United States led to racial segregation.

"Housing Segregation and Redlining in America: A Short History"


The physical surroundings within a neighborhood impact the health of its residents. Today, many neighborhoods that were redlined function as heat islands in their cities. In Richmond and in cities across the country, neighborhoods that are poorer and have more residents of color can be 5 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit hotter in summer than wealthier, whiter parts of the same city. The heat island effect contributes to increased health problems in those neighborhoods. Read the article below to explore the connections between redlining, heat islands and health problems in Richmond and across the country.

"How Decades of Racist Housing Policy Left Neighborhoods Sweltering

Additional Resources

Mapping Inequality - Redlining in New Deal America: This interactive map (developed by researchers at the University of Richmond, Virginia Tech, the University of Maryland, and Johns Hopkins University) shows Home Owners’ Loan Corporation redlining maps from the 1930s and 1940s for cities across the country, including Richmond.

HEARD: Stories of Surviving & Thriving in America's Public Housing: HEARD is an hour-long documentary that captures the inspiring stories of five people who grew up in “the projects” in Richmond, Virginia, surviving and thriving in spite of, and often because of, the challenges they've had to overcome.

Public Housing History: This resource provides a timeline and describes the history of public housing in the United States from its inception in the 1940s as a New Deal Program to the present day.

History Lessons for Today’s Housing Policy The Political Processes of Making Low-Income Housing Policy: This detailed 2012 research paper describes U.S. housing policy across the decades from the 1930s to present day.

East Lake Meadows: A Public Housing Story: Ken Burns presents East Lake Meadows: a Public Housing Story, a film by Sarah Burns and David McMahon. Learn the history of East Lake Meadows, a former public housing community in Atlanta. Stories from residents reveal hardship and resilience, and raise critical questions about race, poverty, and who is deserving of public assistance.

Reflection Activity

DIRECTIONS: Users who are pursuing VCU’s Unlocking Health Equity badge or who are seeking credit through VCUHS Human Resources must complete and submit this Reflection Activity. The Google Form link below will take users to the Reflection Activity Submission Form. The form asks the user to submit basic biographical information (e.g., name, department) and to answer one of the following prompts. Your response must be a minimum of 250 words. Users may select whichever one prompt most interests them.

PROMPT OPTION 1: Housing characteristics can serve as either advantages or disadvantages to an individual’s physical and mental health. Think about your own housing history. What characteristics in your own housing experiences served as either an advantage or a disadvantage to you? How did those experiences either promote your physical and/or mental health or present you with challenges to overcome?

-OR -

PROMPT OPTION 2: Redlining was a nationwide 20th Century practice. Look up the redlining map for the town you grew up in on the Mapping Inequality website. Describe what you learned about your town from this map. Explain how the map matches or does not match your own experiences living there.


PROMPT OPTION 3: Heat islands in Richmond pose a significant health threat for many low income city residents. How might health professionals in Richmond work to address this problem? Describe a strategy or policy that VCU Health and/or VCU Health Sciences could implement that would address the problem of heat islands in Richmond.

Submit Your Reflection Here.