Talking About Health, Housing, and COVID-19: Keeping Equity at the Forefront

COVID-19 has brought to the forefront solutions that advocates have long called for—tenant protections, stopping the sweeps of people who are unhoused, and more—as advocates push for additional, urgent ways to ensure people are sheltered during this pandemic. PHI’s Berkeley Media Studies Group’s guide is focused on shifting the narrative from safety during the pandemic to the importance of treating housing as essential to public health, now and moving forward.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on solutions that advocates have spent years fighting for—tenant protections, stopping the sweeps of people who are unhoused, and more. But in national news coverage from March 2020, PHI’s Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) found that fewer than 1% of stories about COVID-19 mentioned housing issues like evictions, foreclosures, or homelessness.

The news media play a significant role in reaching decision-makers. If the link between housing and health is not explicit in the news, decision-makers and the public may not prioritize addressing housing needs. That’s why PHI’s Berkeley Media Studies Group developed a guide to support public health practitioners, community organizers, and others who are striving, amid COVID-19, to elevate equity-focused solutions in housing and health news and before policymakers.

View & Download the Guide


Components of a COVID-19 message about housing and health

Whether you are writing talking points, news releases, handouts, or other pieces, when you talk about housing and COVID-19, make sure your message includes values, the solution, and a quick overview of the problem,

BMSG message

  • Lead with values. Express your values to build a vision of where we want to go together that includes what housing should look like during this urgent moment and in our future.
  • State the problem clearly. The definition of the problem should lead logically to the specific system change or policy we are seeking in the moment.
  • Name a specific solution. This level of specificity can help people understand that our housing problems are the result of policy decisions made by people and can be changed to shape the community we want to create.

Tips for developing messages about housing in the context of COVID-19

  • Bring racial equity to the forefront. The housing solutions we need for COVID-19 cannot be separated from the racial inequities embedded in housing policy.
  • Be wary of portrait frames. Only use portrait frames when it is clear the problem is the system, not the people; doing so also helps us avoid otherizing language.
  • Instead, bring the landscape into view… When you tell personal stories, tie them to their context — a landscape that can bring the environment surrounding those characters into the picture.
  • …but be strategic. Our messages should make the landscape around housing easier to see, from the history of how the problem got this way to the communities, agencies, and organizations that can be enlisted to repair it, as well as the vision of where we can go together.
View & Download the Guide

Originally published by Berkeley Media Studies Group

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