Is housing the key to curing what ails us?

We all know about the health problems plaguing us as a nation: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, AIDS, cancer. We usually look for medical solutions to these problems: new drugs, fancy diets, exercise, surgery, vaccines, new procedures.

But what if there was another solution? One a little "closer to home"?

New research from the Center for Housing Policy suggests that affordable housing can have significant effects on health, especially for children. The prescription for what ails you could come in the form of a rent check that doesn't zero out your checking account.

The research is getting to the heart of something you probably know intuitively but that is often taken for granted by policy wonks: A family is an ecosystem. Stress on any one part will lead to stress on all the rest. If dad loses his job, the children are affected, even though it's not as though junior got handed a pink slip. The same goes for housing. If a family lives in affordable, safe housing, the effects on the rest of their lives can be profound, this research shows.

Here's what they found:

1) If you're not paying through the nose for your housing, you have more money to spend on things like good food and health care.

Children in low-income families receiving housing subsidies are more likely to meet the "well child" developmental criteria--no developmental concerns, healthy weight, good health--than those in other families at similar income levels.

2) Staying put lowers stress.

Not having to move because of an economic reason like unaffordability, eviction or foreclosure means less stress. Researchers have found a connection between the length of a person's stay in one building and mental health. The longer the stay, the less risk of depression.

3) Safe housing means less danger to children's health.

From lead paint to asthma triggers to physical hazards: The cleaner and safer a building is, the healthier the children are likely to be.

4) Stable housing helps sick people get consistent treatment.

If you're suffering from a serious illness, it's difficult enough to get all the proper treatment you might need--check ups, blood work, radiation treatment, dialysis. But if you're constantly moving, it makes it much tougher. Staying in one place that's affordable means people can concentrate on their health and get better.

5) Affordable housing in a safe neighborhood means people have access to neighborhood amenities that will improve their health.

If you can only find affordable housing in a dangerous neighborhood, chances are, you aren't going to use the local park for a jog in the mornings or send your children out to run around in the yard. Affordable housing in safe neighborhoods means that things like health care, parks and good grocery stores are actually used by their residents.

6) Crowding spreads disease.

When families have to double up, it means germs have easier access to more potential victims.

7) Allowing abuse victims to escape violent situations means better physical and mental health.

It's difficult enough for a victim to escape an abuser. Lack of affordable housing shouldn't stand in the way.

From this research, it looks like there's a lot more to housing than just where we hang our hat. How about you? How does where you're living now affect your health, for better or worse?

Photo credit: faceless b

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Filed under: Health, Housing

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