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Toward Culturally Sensitive Housing—Implications of Health Disparities for Research, Policy, and Practice

Date and time: 
May 20, 2011 - 12:00pm - 1:30pm

Presenter: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni, Associate Professor and Program Director, Interior Design Program, Department of Design, Housing, and Apparel

Minnesota's cultural landscape has changed drastically in the last few decades. Disconcerting is the fact that refugees, immigrants and people of color experience disproportionate poor health outcomes, some of which are related to cultural differences in how families cook, eat, and in general live in their homes. Understanding and responding to cultural differences through housing that supports various ways of living, i.e. culturally sensitive housing, can facilitate healthy lifestyles and improve the health and well-being of Minnesota's diverse communities.

This study uses data from:

  • In-depth in-home interviews with members of five cultural groups living in the Twin Cities area (Hmong, Somali, Mexicans, Ojibwe, and African-Americans), and
  • Interviews with 20 practitioners (designers, affordable housing providers, extension educators, funders, and policy makers).

The findings shed light on the opportunities and challenges involved in pursuing culturally sensitive housing in both policy and practice. Questions that arise include: How do you avoid stereotyping the people you are trying to serve? How do you develop processes that engage historically marginalized populations? What kind of spaces can meet diverse needs and nudge people toward a healthy lifestyle? Are and should designers be life coaches when it comes to health? How do you raise awareness among decision makers like funders, policy makers, and city officials about the benefits of culturally sensitive housing to the social, economic, and cultural vitality of our communities? Armed with answers to these questions, design practitioners, affordable housing providers, as well as policy makers can help establish Minnesota as a catalyst for re-evaluating what socially just and inclusive affordable housing means and how it is pursued, helping reduce health disparities in the process.

The CURA Housing Forum is a monthly brown-bag discussion of Twin Cities housing issues and research, sponsored by the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA). CURA Housing Forums are free of charge and open to the public.

CURA Programs: