The Four Pillars of Housing as a Public Health Issue
When evaluating the ways that housing and health are interrelated, there are four pillars. These pillars affect both mental and physical health. Below are some quick facts about the ways that housing impacts health under each heading.
- Children, who experienced homelessness only while in utero, were more likely to be hospitalized or suffer worse health compared to their peers,
- Housing instability during youth (i.e., moving a lot, couch surfing) increases the likelihood of poor health, teen pregnancy, drug use, dropping out of school, and depression,
- Approximately 10% of people aged 18-25 (about 3 million people) experience some form of homelessness over the course of a year,
- LGBTQIA+ youth experience homelessness at rates estimated between 20%-40% and 20% report that they faced discrimination when trying to rent or buy a home
- Poor indoor air quality, lead paint, and other hazards put families at risk for multiple health problems,
- Water leaks, poor ventilation, dirty carpets, and pest infestations lead to increased risk of mold, mites, and other allergens
- Exposure to extremely high or low temperatures is correlated with cardiovascular issues, particularly among elderly people,
- More than 38.9 million Americans are cost burdened and more than 18.8 million households are severely cost burdened,
- Cost-burdened renters are 23x more likely to have difficulty purchasing food and forego their prescribed medications,
- Cost burdened shares are much higher among Black households (45%) and Hispanic households (43%) than Asian and other minorities (36%) or White households (27%)
- Black people are 13% of the US population, but make up 40% of the homeless population,
- When families have affordable rent payments, they are found to increase their discretionary income by 77%.
- Neighborhoods impact issues surrounding places for children to play, places that are free of crime, violence, and pollution,
- As of 2012, 18% of Tucson lives in a food desert (area with limited access to a variety of healthful food)
- Living near high-volume roads can lead to increased rates of respiratory diseases like asthma, bronchitis, and increased use of healthcare
Connecting Housing and Health Solutions
Despite some scary statistics, there are solutions!
Studies found that children in families participating in Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) were at a healthier weight and at less nutritional risk, compared to nonparticipant peers. LIHEAP provides financial assistance for home heating and cooling for low-income households.
Additionally, some cities have adopted the American Public Health Association’s recommendations for Healthy Housing Standards. These recommendations set standards for health-focused property maintenance policies that would enforce safe, healthy environments, aimed at landlords and property managers.
When looking to improve housing mobility through voucher programs, there are a few options. Small Area Fair Market Rents calculate voucher assistance by zip code, rather than metro area.
This increases access to more affluent neighborhoods that have better schools, less crime, and better resources. However, this method of calculation is only used in 24 metro areas. If this applied in more areas, more families would be able to afford to move into the more affluent neighborhoods.
Furthermore, the ability to move into housing with Section 8 vouchers depends on the willingness of landlords to accept vouchers.
There is a great deal of stigma against Section 8 recipients and administrative burdens for landlords to go through. With more incentives for landlords to accept vouchers, it could open up many more opportunities for housing in better-resourced neighborhoods.
Down Payment and Other Emergency Assistance Programs
For now, there are a few ways organizations like Family Housing Resources (FHR) can help. To promote affordable and stable housing, programs like WISH and HOME are essential. The down payment assistance opportunities allow low- and middle-income households to become homeowners and build their wealth. Additionally, with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, many families face uncertainty regarding their financial and housing situation. Programs like rental and mortgage assistance programs help families stay in their homes and relieve some stress.
When housing policies and programs that promote affordable, safe, and quality housing are put into place, we can improve the health and well-being of millions of people.
About Family Housing Resources (FHR): FHR is a nonprofit agency founded by the Pima County Industrial Development Authority in 1991. FHR provides pathways to homeownership through down payment assistance and housing counseling and is an affordable rental property manager of over 200 units in Tucson and Benson, Arizona. FHR’s mission is to create lasting solutions to help individuals and families reach financial freedom through housing support, education and partnership. Learn more at FHRTucson.org