Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

May 5, 2015

Connecting Housing to Health

By David Reiss

The Center for Housing Policy’s latest issue of Insights from Housing Policy Research featured a research summary on The Impacts of Affordable Housing on Health:

the authors examined recent research on the various ways in which the production, rehabilitation, or other provision of affordable housing may affect health outcomes for children, adults, and older adults. This report is organized around ten hypotheses on the contribution of affordable housing to supporting positive health outcomes. Overall, the research supports the critical link between stable, decent, and affordable housing and positive health outcomes. (1, footnote omitted, emphasis in the original)

The authors conclude that “providing affordable housing is a valuable strategy to support and improve wellbeing. It is important for policymakers to understand that safe, adequate, and affordable housing is not just shelter but also an investment in good health for low-income households.” (8)

The article seems pretty result-driven, so I am not sure how reliable it is as a research summary. I was particularly struck by its frequent conflating of causation and correlation. This conflation is seen in the conclusion above: there is surely a link between housing and health, but what is causing what?

Take the first hypothesis: “Affordable Housing Can Improve Health Outcomes by Freeing Up Family Resources for Nutritious Food and Health Care Expenditures.” (2) Sure, but so can increased income or decreased expenses in other parts of a budget. This first hypothesis isn’t really a story about affordable housing, but about poverty. So a better question might be — what is the most efficient way to increase resources for food and health care? The research cited does not appear to make the case that affordable housing is the right answer to that question.

There is no question that this is first and foremost an advocacy document. This should come as no surprise, given that the Center for Housing Policy is the research division of the National Housing Conference. That being said, the footnotes do provide an overview of the research in this area. Some readers might find it useful in that regard.


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