Merced County is fast-growing and has a higher proportion of residents in poverty compared with California or the U.S., broadly. In addition, the residential vacancy rates are low, making affordable housing scarce.
Individuals and families struggling to pay for housing have limited resources for other essentials, such as food, clothing, health care and medication, utilities, and mental health services, which, in turn, can lead to homelessness, poor nutrition, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic anxiety, and depression. The Merced County Department of Public Health conducted an HIA to examine and predict the housing cost burden for residents and students as it relates to the University of California, Merced (UCM) 2018 Draft Long Range Development Plan (LRDP).
The report’s recommendations include forming a partnership among the City of Merced, Merced County, community-based organizations, and UCM to address housing needs in the city and surrounding areas and maintaining or increasing on-campus student housing as the campus grows.
Although the county did not implement the recommendations, the HIA gave community partners and residents an opportunity to become more informed about the impacts of housing on their health and about UCM’s plan to house students. In addition, community residents articulated their concerns during UCM-sponsored public comment meetings. According to the Subsequent Environmental Impact Report (SEIR), “Comments received on the Draft SEIR assert that the LRDP‐related demand for housing in the City of Merced would result in increases in rents and the cost of housing for the public. This SEIR does not analyze any indirect socioeconomic effects, such as effects on the cost of housing that could result from the campus‐related demand for housing. [The California Environmental Quality Act] does not require a discussion of socioeconomic effects except where they would result in physical changes, and states that social or economic effects shall not be treated as significant effects (see CEQA Guidelines Section 15131).”
Although the report cites no significant effects in the area of housing and offers no commitment to form a collaborative partnership, it does include plans to house 50% of the student population on campus.
This Health Impact Assessment Report first appeared in The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health. The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health was originally developed by the Health Impact Project, formerly a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The creation of this resource was supported by a grant from the Health Impact Project. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts, or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.