If you are one of five people living in a one-bedroom dwelling, you are living in a condition one local health official called severely overcrowded, and there are a number of ramifications that could potentially impact your life.

Dr. Eric Walsh, M.P.H., head of the Pasadena Public Health Department, talked about this and other urban environmental concerns at a recent Urban Issues Breakfast Forum, held at the California African American Museum.

Living in overcrowded conditions leads to a number of long-term negative health and educational outcomes, said Walsh. These include shorter life expectancy; a tendency among teens to live a more risk-filled life because they don’t think they will live very long; housing insecurity; poor school performance; lowered educational attainment levels; poor access to healthy food; high levels of stress, which in turn leads to early death; a more polluted home environment; exposure to more violence; and ultimately a higher chance of potentially feeding into an overcrowded prison system.

Children who live in such conditions also often exhibit higher levels of stress and diseases such as post traumatic stress disorder.

Additionally, the doctor said that one-third of renters in Los Angeles County live in overcrowded conditions–four people in a one-bedroom home–and one-quarter live in severely overcrowded conditions.

Among the reasons for the overcrowding, according to Walsh are discrimination and public policies.

These policies are often designed to meet one goal, but unintentionally create problems. For example, when government officials lowered the income levels of people who can qualify to live in housing projects, this “fractured” the community by pushing out moderate- and middle-income people who might otherwise live in the housing development and it concentrated low-income families all in one place.

The Pasadena health official also reminded the audience that such overcrowded housing has a traumatic effect, particularly on the young, that lasts long after they leave such living conditions.

Walsh offered a number of solutions to the overcrowding problem. Among them are dispersing low-income residents throughout a city; ensuring that the schools serving the overcrowded community are high-functioning; making good jobs available in the neighborhoods; changing housing policies; ending housing discrimination; ensuring that residents in such areas have access to health services, and making sure that there are strong social and spiritual supports in the community.

Walsh also pointed to a much more difficult fix–the need to change the judicial system so that masses of Black and Latino young men are no longer swept up into prisons that then, too, become overcrowded.