Plumbing Poverty Is Worsening: Research

More than 1M in US lack adequate bathrooms
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 28, 2021 6:32 PM CDT
Plumbing Poverty Is Worsening: Research
Volunteers around the city worked on preventing the spread of the coronavirus.   (Greg Lehman/Walla Walla Union-Bulletin via AP)

When they need to go to a bathroom, more than 1 million people in the US have to turn to chamber pots, school showers, and public restrooms. Almost a half-million households don't have basic indoor plumbing, new research has found. The problem isn't just in poor places, the Guardian reports; in fact, it's been growing worse in San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. People of color suffer most often, along with renters, the research found. The project was conducted by the Plumbing Poverty Project, an effort by King's College London and the University of Arizona. The work was based on the Census Bureau's community surveys.

San Francisco has almost 15,000 families in homes without adequate plumbing. That number has risen by 12% since 2000, while the median price of a house has tripled. Data for 2017 showed Black people as 9% of the city's population, though they made up 17% of the households without indoor plumbing. "The story of plumbing poverty in San Francisco is inextricably tied to unaffordable housing, declining incomes, post-recession transformations in the California rental sector, and racialized wealth gaps," said Katie Meehan, a professor and lead researcher of the project. Black people are being pushed into worse housing conditions or out of the area, she said.

The problem is national, existing in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, as well, researchers said. From 2000 to 2017, Milwaukee, San Antonio, Phoenix, Nashville, Seattle, and Cleveland made little to no progress in addressing the problem, researchers found. In Phoenix, renters make less money but pay more to live in places without running water than they did two decades ago, per the Guardian. The project's white paper is intended to show governments the steps to take to end what it calls plumbing poverty.

And the problem is global. When the pandemic began, public health officials recommended washing hands often. But UN data show that 2 billion people, one-fourth of the world's population, didn't have clean running water. Everywhere, the lack of a safety net is a driving force, experts say. In San Francisco, a woman and her two daughters lived until recently in a $2,300 studio apartment. Yellow water came out of the faucet at the sink, and the toilet couldn't be used because it wasn't properly connected; her landlord wouldn't fix it. Rosa Ramiréz and her daughters would go to a nearby donut shop or cafe to use the restroom. When the pandemic began, the doors were closed to them. "It was unbearable," Ramiréz said. (Read more clean water stories.)

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