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Foreclosures take health along with homes, report says

Submitted by Staff on Thu, 06/18/2009 - 2:37pm

Oakland Tribune

OAKLAND — The foreclosure crisis is causing more problems than lost homes, it also is deteriorating the health of individuals and communities, according to housing advocates and East Bay officials.

"We know where people live has a lot to do with how people live and how long they live," said Sandra Witt, deputy director of planning, policy and health equity for Alameda County's Public Health Department.

Witt was one of several speakers Tuesday at a news conference in East Oakland to discuss a preliminary report released by the Public Health Department and the group Just Cause Oakland, examining the health impacts of foreclosures on families and communities.

"People who are being foreclosed upon have less resources for other things they need to be healthy," said Witt, pointing to food as an example.

Oakland has been hit hard by the country's foreclosure crisis. In East and West Oakland, nearly 10 percent of homes have been in the process of foreclosure this past year — and the city's African-American and Latino residents have been the hardest hit. On top of single-family homes that have been foreclosed, nearly 20 percent of all properties facing foreclosures are rentals, leaving many more families scrambling.

According to the county's public health department and housing advocacy groups, all of this is leading to a decline in public health, including increased stress, blight in the community and children having to be uprooted from schools.

According to the health department's report, "Stress due to housing instability is associated with a greater likelihood of developing hypertension, lower levels of psychological well-being, and increased visits to the emergency room."

Arthur Forther moved to Oakland in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina devastated his home. He has watched firsthand how foreclosures affect public health. After the bank foreclosed on his rental property, he said he and his family did not have a working bathroom for more than three weeks.

Other issues, such as heating problems, also have taken long to fix. He currently is waiting to see if the bank will even continue letting he, his fiancee, and his brothers live in their East Oakland apartment or if they all will be evicted.

"I'd like to stay," Forther said. "But I don't know. We haven't heard anything yet from anybody, so we're still there."

Robbie Clark, an organizer with Just Cause Oakland, said the report showed it was time for local leaders to help those who face losing their homes or apartments by creating more community outreach, trying to secure more long-term fixed mortgages for those in trouble and making sure banks follow ordinances for evictions.

According to the new report, the foreclosure issue has hit the county — and, in particular, Oakland — hard. In February alone, there were more than 2,500 foreclosed properties in Alameda County. Nearly one-third — 847 — of those were in Oakland.