Families who pay excessive amounts of their income for housing often lack resources for other essential needs. If too much money is spent on housing, not enough is available for healthy food, medical insurance and health care. Households who spend 30 percent or less of their income on housing are more likely to be able to afford other essential needs to maintain their health. Research has shown that adults who live in unaffordable housing are more likely to report being in fair or poor health. Additionally, adults who are burdened by housing costs are more likely to report failure to fill a prescription or follow through with health care treatments because of cost.
When facing few affordable housing options, families may be forced to live in housing that puts them at risk of lead poisoning, asthma and accidental injury. In Grand Rapids, the 49507 zip code reported the highest number of children with elevated blood lead levels in the state of Michigan (2016). The main sources of lead in the home are windowsill dust, soil and paint. Many homes in the 49507 zip code have not been renovated to remove these lead hazards and therefore place children at risk of becoming lead-poisoned.
Asthma is triggered by several environmental factors, including poor air quality and indoor allergens. Poor quality and poorly maintained housing may contain mold, dust mites, pests and rodents – all of which are sources of allergens that can cause asthma and other health conditions. Interventions such as carpet replacement and integrated pest management (IPM) can eliminate allergens that trigger asthma among household residents.
Housing instability, including frequent moves, living in crowded conditions and foreclosures, is related to elevated stress levels, depression and hopelessness. Researchers have found evidence that longer stays in a residence are associated with lower levels of depression among seniors and fewer behavioral issues, such as anxiety and aggression, among children. Evidence also shows that difficulty keeping up with utility bills, mortgage payments or home repairs may be linked to lower levels of psychological well-being and more intensive use of medical services, particularly among men.
Studies have shown that homeowners generally have better physical and mental health outcomes than renters. Possible explanations include the fact that homeowners experience higher levels of self-esteem and an increased sense of control. Homeowners tend to live in higher-quality housing and have more freedom to adapt their surroundings to their needs. This sense of control leads to reduced stress and greater levels of satisfaction.
While evidence on homeowners who spend more than 30% of their income on housing is lacking, research suggests that even unaffordable homeownership may have more positive impacts on health than renting. In the absence of homeownership, these health benefits can be realized through affordable rental programs that promote longer-term residential stability and higher quality housing.
The Impacts of Affordable Housing on Health: A Research Summary – The Center for Housing Policy, National Housing Conference