Housing Assistance Can Benefit Health

Housing subsidies observed to reduce uninsured rate and the unmet healthcare needs of low-income Americans.

Having access to stable and affordable housing may lead to increased utilization of healthcare, including insurance, according to a new study published by Health Affairs.

Individuals who received subsidized housing assistance were more likely to be insured and less likely to have unmet healthcare needs compared with low-income individuals not receiving the assistance. Specifically, the authors discovered that only 31% of individuals receiving assistance from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) were uninsured compared with 37% of those on a wait list.

Included in the study were data for adults in the National Health Interview Survey, which was then linked to HUD data from 2004 to 2012. All participants ranged in age between 18 and 64.

"We found that the benefits of giving people subsidized housing go beyond simply having access to affordable housing,” said researcher Andrew Fenelon, PhD. “Housing is good in and of itself, but even better is that with improved access to housing, you get improvements in access to health care, and ultimately better health outcomes.”

Housing assistance programs funded by HUD provide low-income Americans with access to affordable, stable housing. Individuals who receive the assistance typically have poor health and require care for mental health conditions or chronic diseases, according to the study.

Previous studies have found that access to care greatly improves health, while housing instability has been linked to poor access to healthcare. Few studies have investigated whether housing assistance can lead to improved health.

The authors discovered that nearly 50% of patients who received the HUD assistance had unmet healthcare needs, while a little more than 40% of patients receiving the assistance had unmet needs, according to the study.

Additionally, the authors discovered that patients receiving housing assistance were more likely to have a usual source of care compared with those not receiving the subsidies.

These findings suggest that HUD housing subsidies may lead to improved health among low-income patients. Currently, qualified individuals may have to wait to receive a housing choice voucher to obtain a housing arrangement, which may place them at risk of poor health, according to the authors.

"There are many reasons why having access to housing may enable people to obtain health insurance and access needed care," Dr Fenelon said. "With the increased stability that comes from having a home and reduced financial burdens, and being introduced into the social service system and the access to other support services it provides, people receiving housing assistance are getting improved access to primary care health services. This is a clear demonstration that housing is one of the so-called 'social determinants' of health. The value of this program should be carefully considered in light of the far-reaching benefits it may have beyond its face value."