Often Overlooked Health Benefits of Affordable Housing
Many positive health outcomes may result from more access to high-quality affordable housing. A body of research shows correlations between affordable housing and healthier child development, fewer serious health issues and improved quality of life. Those who receive housing vouchers to affordable housing units in a safe and well-planned area can benefit greatly. As emotional, mental and physical health issues only cause an additional burden on overtaxed healthcare systems and may make it harder for affected individuals to receive necessary health care services and follow suggested protocols, it is important to understand the need for additional affordable housing opportunities.
Affordable Housing and Health Outcomes
Families who struggle to pay for rent often have difficulty attending to other immediate needs. Individuals may fail to refill prescriptions, not seek medical attention or not be able to purchase nutritious foods for both themselves and their family. Such tradeoffs can make it harder for children to reach important developmental milestones and get treatment for conditions that can hinder their ability to learn. Children in low-income families who are not receiving housing subsidies have a higher risk of suffering from malnutrition, iron deficiencies, and underdevelopment. Older children in such situations may not be as healthy as those in families receiving subsidies.
Families may be under greater stress and have more negative health outcomes without residential stability. The stable housing supports mental health. Children who are homeless may develop developmental delays, depression and mental health problems more often than those with stable housing. Frequent moves, the threat of foreclosure and eviction can also have a relationship to stress levels, feelings of hopelessness and depression. People with higher levels of stress may be at greater risk of stress-related health conditions, having psychological issues and needing to seek treatment from a physician.
It is not only children who suffer from not having access to stable and affordable housing. Adults with chronic illnesses or disabilities often experience poorer health outcomes. It is necessary to take required medications consistently when living with diabetes, hypertension or HIV/AIDS. This can all be harder to do without having discretionary income or being in a housing situation that is not stable. The young and the elderly can be particularly susceptible to health issues related to a lack of affordable housing and limited financial resources.
Better Housing and Healthier Communities
The environment in which one lives has much to do with health outcomes. Not all housing developments are the same. Individuals living in poor quality housing may be at higher risk of exposure to neurotoxins, allergens and more. This can lead to poorer health outcomes in children, teens, and adults over the long-term. Lead-paint is still an issue in many homes occupied by low-income families. In addition, mold, cockroaches, dust mites and other organisms can be problematic, increasing the allergens in a home environment and exacerbating respiratory illnesses. Families living in unsafe conditions and buildings that are not properly maintained are generally at greater risk of injuries and accidental burns.
Living in or near a neighborhood of opportunity can be of significant benefit to low-income families. Residing in a high-poverty area may expose individuals to more traumatic or violent events, as well as greater psychological stress. In one special program, those who were able to move to neighborhoods of opportunity and less poverty showed mental health improvements comparable to receive mental health interventions. Oftentimes, potential home buyers may not be aware of the programs available to them to help them purchase homes. Programs like USDA home loans or FHA loans are common options to help individuals remove themselves from high poverty regions.
One promising approach is to improve opportunities and amenities in existing or new housing developments. In such developments, there would be an emphasis on the addition of retail establishments, as well as the establishment of walkable communities. Such communities can promote social engagement and lower cases of anxiety, depression, and anxiety. Communities with strong social cohesion often lead to healthier mental well-being.
The Need for More Affordable Housing
Low-income families receiving housing subsidies are less likely to become homeless. Affordable housing subsidies can make it easier for individuals and families to use their resources on healthy food and necessary medical care. A struggle to pay rent can make for budget trade-offs that can result in serious health consequences. Children may not only have poorer health outcomes but developmental and emotional health problems in addition to demonstrating less engagement in school. High-quality affordable homes can serve as a stepping stone, assisting families in paying down debt, saving for higher education or purchasing a home.