Abraham Gutman, Katie Moran-McCabe and Scott Burris at the Temple University Center for Public Health Law Research published an article in the Northeastern University Law Review that explores 23 legal mechanisms, or levers, that may impact health equity in housing in the U.S., and reviews the evidence base evaluating each lever.


The article introduces the 23 legal levers divided into a model of five core domains:

  1. Increasing the Supply of New Affordable Housing
  2. Maintaining Existing Housing as Affordable, Stable and Safe
  3. Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing
  4. Protecting and Enhancing Economic Choice for the Poor, and
  5. Governance and Planning

The authors find that the evidence base regarding the impact of these levers is minimal, and the number of quality, rigorous scientific studies is even smaller.

One example can be found in landlord-tenant law. The authors found an abundance of articles that praise, discuss, or analyze the implied warranty of habitability, which is considered one of the primary mechanisms regulating the relationship between landlords and tenants. Yet none of those articles empirically evaluates its actual use or impact.

The state of evaluation of other landlord-tenant law and litigation is not much better. The authors found one study from 1980, and since then, no evaluation of landlord-tenant litigation or the effect of law on their relations.

Implications for Policy and Practice

This article offers a heuristic model of the system of legal levers that could be instrumental in reaching the goal of health equity in housing, and provides a much-needed investigation into the effects and operation of those legal levers. The finding that the impacts of many of the levers have not been studied may serve as a blueprint for strategic thinking and immediate action to develop and test better ways to use and combine legal levers.

The authors offer two recommendations moving forward:

  1. Innovation, advocacy, implementation, and evaluation should be planned together as much as possible.
  2. Research must do more to identify the effects of laws while also building toward rigorous study of the interactions of policies and policy elements with a system.

Related Evidence

  • Published December 9, 2019

    The U.S. housing system has created a chronic affordability gap and persistently inequitable and unhealthy living conditions. Law plays an important role in shaping that system, but there is too much unknown about the impact of housing laws and policies on health and health equity. This report series by the P4A Research Hub at the Center for Public Health Law Research at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law aims to highlight these gaps, and to suggest areas for research and action needed to produce healthier communities.

    View Evidence