Children's HealthWatch Five Site Housing Brief Series: 2012Housing is regularly the largest expense in families' budgets and families will often go to great lengths to keep a roof over their heads. To meet high housing costs, low-income families frequently need to make trade-offs between paying their rent and paying for other basic needs. Recent research by Children’s HealthWatch illustrates the connection between unaffordable housing, strained budgets and health outcomes for families and young children.
While there is extensive clinical research on the negative effects of homelessness on the health of parents and children, there has been little research on the health effects of family struggles to maintain stable housing (housing insecurity). This research project expanded on previous Children's HealthWatch findings on the impact of housing insecurity. Children's HealthWatch found that families who were living in crowded situations, or were moving frequently were more likely to experience food insecurity (a known child health risk). Children's HealthWatch also found that young children in families who were behind on rent were more likely to be hospitalized and/or be in poor health.
Children's HealthWatch analyzed the data from each of our research sites (
Objectives of the Project
- To better understand the impacts of housing insecurity on maternal and child health and well-being in Children's HealthWatch's five research sites.
- Children's HealthWatch researchers analyzed survey data collected from caregivers of children under four between 2005 and 2011.
- Data was analyzed by separately by research site.
- To ensure the research sample was composed of low-income families, those with private insurance were excluded.
- The referent group for the analysis was stably housed families.
- Stably housed was defined as:
- Families who haven't moved two or more times in the last twelve months,
- Families who were not living in spaces where there are more than two people per bedroom or where families are doubled up temporarily with another family for financial reasons
- Families who were not behind on rent at any point in the last twelve months.
- Stably housed was defined as:
- Children's HealthWatch has currently published four of the five briefs in the series: Philadelpia, Arkansas, Massachusetts, and Baltimore. There is high prevelance of housing insecurity in all four of these Children's HealthWatch Research Sites.
56% of families in our Philadelphia sample were housing insecure, compared to 51% of families in our Arkansas sample.
- In Arkanasa, compared to children in stably housed families, children in households who moved frequently were 34% more likely to be underweight (a sign of undernutrition).
- In Massachusetts, children in families who had moved two or more times in the past year were 59% more likely to have been hospitalized than were children in housing-secure families.
- Baltimore children in families who were behind on rent were 49% more likely to be in fair or poor health compared to stably housed families.
In Minneapolis, 67% percent of our sample experienced housing insecurity.
Our main findings were replicated in Philadelphia, Arkansas, Massachusetts, and Baltimore:
- Young children in housing insecure families are more likely to be household and child food insecure.
- Young children in families who moved frequently or were behind on rent are at increased risk of poor health and developmental delays.
- Families who are behind on rent are much more likely to be unable to afford basic neccesities such as food, energy and healthcare.
Our evidence shows that stable, affordable housing improves the health of our children and the well-being of families. Investing in affordable housing can reduce lost days of work for parents and overall health care costs, and will enable children to reach their inherent potential as productive members of society.
Solutions within Reach: Policy Recommendations
Our research suggests the following policy actions will have a positive affect on health:
- Increased investments in affordable housing, such as housing trust funds.
- Short term and long term interventions to help stabilize families housing.
- Greater coordination between affordable housing programs and safety-net programs that help families cope with homelessness.
Published Policy Action Briefs
- Housing Insecurity: when families move frequently (two or more times in the last twelve months), are crowded (more than two people per bedroom or doubled up temporarily with another fmaily for financial reasons), or were behind on rent at any point in the last twelve months
- Fair Market Rent: the rent that a property could command in an open, competitive, and unrestricted market
- Affordable Housing: Rent/ mortgage that is equal to or less than thirty percent of household income (as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development)
- Food Insecurity: when families lack access to sufficient food for all family members to enjoy active healthy lives. Food insecure children are more likely to be hospitalized, have developmental delays, iron-deficiency anemia, and/or be in fair or poor health
- Child Food Insecurity: (the most severe level of food insecurity) occurs when children experience reductions in the quality and/ or quantity of meals becuase caregivers can no longer buffer them from inadequate household food resources
- Energy Insecurity: lack of consistent access to enough of the kinds of energy (e.g. electricity, natural gas, and heating oil) needed for a health and safe life
Upcoming Policy Action Briefs