A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Program
profile picture

Carrie Beth
Lasley

PhD

I’m a city kid, from several generations of city dwellers. I’ve seen a lot of white poverty, and I’ve been treated as a second-class citizen. I’ve seen my parents and neighbors struggle because they weren’t on the right side of town, and didn’t have access to services. Things like that stick with you for life.

Carrie Beth Lasley’s home has always included an urban backdrop, so the field of urban studies was a no-brainer for her. Her specific research niche is the intersection of health and homes, for which her home city of Detroit serves as the perfect proving ground.

Connecting City Safety and Health

After receiving an undergraduate GIS certificate from City University of New York–Lehman, a Masters in Urban Planning from the University of Louisville, and a doctorate in Urban Studies from the University of New Orleans, Carrie Beth became interested in underlying patterns of disparity and risk. Specifically, she was interested in how poverty, race, and health interact, especially in urban settings.

Now a research associate at the Center for Urban Studies and instructor of Geography and Urban Planning at the Department for Urban Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, Carrie Beth has looked at environmental hazards and policy issues, public housing models, flooding, fire risk, and more. Her work currently focuses on built and natural environments as they relate to healthy homes.

“Most people spend 90 percent of their time in their homes and offices,” she attests. “It creates long-term health problems if those spaces aren’t safe.”

One aspect of safety she is addressing with a team of doctoral students includes the Urban Wildfire in Detroit project. Carrie Beth enjoys the unexpected nature of this work.

“We generally think of wildfire risk occurring on urban fringes where the built environment is encroaching on nature,” she explains. “In Detroit, the reverse is occurring.”

This project is examining wildfire risk in the unmaintained wild lands that are filling Detroit’s areas vacated by urban residents.

Building a Research Base through New Connections

In 2011, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) adopted the Healthy Homes Rating System (HHRS), which identifies health and safety issues in order to direct services to at-risk households. As one of the cities implementing HHRS, Detroit has gained crucial data from more than 700 HHRS assessments it has conducted to date.

Through her recent two-year New Connections grant — the Detroit Healthy Homes Advocacy Project — Carrie Beth has begun examining unique HHRS datasets related to the nature and geographic extent of housing hazards in Detroit.

“The New Connections program takes a holistic view of health, which attracted me to this program,” Carrie Beth states. “Understanding that link between health and safety in communities is a critical focus of mine.”

By looking at Detroit, as well as conducting similar assessments in Greensboro, North Carolina, Carrie Beth hopes to map health and safety hazard data alongside health disparities data to get a sense of where these factors intersect with race and poverty.

“A lot of times we have data, but don’t know how to use it to benefit populations,” Carrie Beth notes. “These HHRS datasets are allowing us to recognize nuances within our urban fabric that exacerbate poor health outcomes. Once we understand those nuances, we can start building better solutions for communities and residents.”

Moving Research into Action and Partnership

Thanks to New Connections, Carrie Beth is able to concentrate on her research in a way that she wasn’t able to before.

“Before, I was taking up everybody’s side projects,” Carrie Beth states. “Now I can focus on what’s interesting to me.”

Carrie Beth hopes her Detroit Healthy Homes Advocacy Project will result in:

1. Materials for both policy-makers and community organizations/residents advocating for improved sub-standard housing conditions; and

2. A process, or service model, for residents to follow so that resources get to people who need them most.

The New Connections grant also is allowing her to begin convening others focused on these issues and position herself as a thought leader in the growing community of housing health researchers.

Carrie Beth already is planning on holding an HHRS Implementers Workshop for assessors around the nation to discuss their experiences and brainstorm ways to move this knowledge into action.