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Posted: September 8th, 2023

Health on the Home Front: How Housing Impacts Well-Being

Health on the Home Front: How Housing Impacts Well-Being
Where we live profoundly shapes our health and wellness. Substandard housing conditions and lack of safe, affordable housing present major public health challenges worldwide. A growing body of research demonstrates the powerful influence that housing and neighborhood characteristics have on individuals’ ability to engage in healthy behaviors and manage health conditions. This article examines how housing instability, poor housing quality, and related social and economic stressors undermine health, with a focus on populations in the United States.
Housing is considered a basic human right, yet over half a million Americans experience homelessness each night and millions more face unaffordable rents that consume over 30% of their income (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2022).(1) Housing insecurity due to high costs or unstable living situations activates the body’s stress response systems. Chronic stress associated with the daily worries of eviction or inability to pay rent long-term negatively impacts health through elevated cortisol levels and inflammation (Pollack & Lynch, 2009).(2)
Substandard housing quality like mold, lead paint, inadequate plumbing also poses health risks. Mold exposure is linked to respiratory illnesses like asthma, especially in children (Mudarri & Fisk, 2007).(3) Lead paint poisoning remains a public health crisis, with low-income communities of color disproportionately affected. Even low levels of lead exposure in children have been shown to lower IQ scores and increase behavioral issues (CDC, 2019).(4) Cockroach and rodent infestations in poorly maintained housing stock facilitate the spread of diseases.
Neighborhood conditions also influence health. Areas lacking access to full-service grocery stores and recreational spaces discourage healthy diets and physical activity. Violence and lack of social cohesion in under-resourced communities elevate stress levels. Long commutes from affordable housing options to jobs and services reduce time for self-care.
When basic shelter is unstable or inadequate, managing chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and mental illness becomes nearly impossible. Without a safe place to rest, store medications, or prepare nutritious meals, following treatment plans is extraordinarily difficult. This helps explain why rates of preventable hospitalizations are higher in low-income communities (Chetty et al., 2016).(5)
The COVID-19 pandemic further highlighted these housing-health inequities. Overcrowded living conditions and inability to properly isolate heightened virus transmission risks. Job and income losses led to greater housing insecurity, mental distress, and delayed medical care (Cox & Ranchod, 2020).(6)
Addressing America’s housing crisis through a public health lens would yield enormous societal returns. Prioritizing affordable housing development, rental assistance programs, and policies to improve housing quality would remove significant barriers preventing people from making healthy choices and managing their well-being. With basic shelter secured, individuals and families would face less stress and instability—empowering improved health outcomes and quality of life for all.
In conclusion, where and how we live profoundly impacts our health. The social determinants of housing and neighborhood conditions shape behaviors and illness management in ways that perpetuate health inequities. Adequate, affordable housing must be recognized as a fundamental component of disease prevention and community well-being.

Solar, O., & Irwin, A. (2010). A conceptual framework for action on the social determinants of health. Social determinants of health discussion paper 2 (policy and practice). World Health Organization.
Braveman, P. A., & Gottlieb, L. (2014). The social determinants of health: it’s time to consider the causes of the causes. Public health reports and research paper writing help, 129(1_suppl2), 19–31.
Phelan, J. C., Link, B. G., & Tehranifar, P. (2010). Social conditions as fundamental causes of health inequalities: theory, evidence, and policy implications. Journal of health and social behavior, 51 Suppl(1_suppl), S28–S40.
Marmot, M., & Allen, J. J. (2014). Social determinants of health equity. American journal of public health, 104 Suppl 4(S4), S517–S519.

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