Housing is fundamental. Health is greatly enhanced by adequate and safe housing conditions, affordability, and residential stability. Housing instability can involve trouble paying rent, overcrowding, moving frequently, staying with relatives, or spending the bulk of household income on housing.
According to research compiled by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, the affordability of housing has clear implications for health. When housing is unaffordable, it can have a destabilizing effect on many other aspects of a person’s life. People spending more than 30% of their income on housing are considered “cost burdened” and are often forced to make difficult decisions between housing costs and other basic needs, including healthy food and health care.
When faced with trouble paying for housing, people often move frequently and may be forced to move in with others, potentially resulting in overcrowding. Overcrowded or inadequate housing arrangements can heighten stress, affect mental health, relationships and sleep, and may even increase the risk of infectious disease.
Housing instability disrupts work, school, and day care arrangements, as well as social networks of both adults and children. Worries over the stability of one’s housing situation and poor control over the conditions of one’s home can result in toxic stress.
Housing instability can force renters to live in poorer and higher-crime neighborhoods. People with the lowest incomes may be forced to rent substandard housing that exposes them to health and safety risks such as lead, mold, water leaks, and inadequate heating or cooling systems. Inadequate housing conditions are associated with both physical and mental illnesses including respiratory conditions due primarily to poor indoor air quality, cognitive delays in children from exposure to lead and accidents and injuries as a result of structural deficiencies.
Stable, affordable, safe housing is basic and the lack of it is toxic.