Access to safe, stable housing serves as a key foundational component for our health and well-being – in fact, so much so that organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have defined housing as one of the social determinants of health (SDOH) domains. These are environmental conditions where we live, work, learn, and play that impact health and quality of life outcomes. SDOH have been shown to have a larger influence on overall health than access to health care and are key drivers of furthering health, racial, and social inequities.
Defining Housing Instability
Housing instability is a broad category of challenges that range from paying a disproportionate amount of income on housing (cost-burdened), frequent moves due to forced moves and evictions, inability to pay rent and overcrowding. Cost-burdened households are defined as those who spend more than 30% of their income on housing. Those who spend more than 50% are considered severely cost-burdened. According to a 2020 Joint Center for Housing study, 37.1 million households were cost-burdened in 2019. Approximately 580,000 people in the United States experienced homelessness (the most severe form of housing insecurity) on a single night in 2020. Nearly half of the Americans that became homeless on this particular day were in unsheltered locations, such as abandoned buildings, on the streets, or other unsuitable living conditions.
Who Does Housing Instability Affect?
Anyone can experience housing insecurity, but some populations are more affected than others. People who have spent time in prison may face discrimination by potential landlords and lose eligibility for public housing. Black and Hispanic households are frequently more cost-burdened and see lower homeownership rates than white households. These populations also account for a disproportionately large share of the homeless population.
Effects of Housing Instability
People without stable housing are more likely to experience homelessness, unemployment, violence, food insecurity, substance use, and physical and mental challenges including stress, depression, and/or anxiety. These conditions can have a substantial impact on overall health and well-being.
For example, cost-burdened households may be unable to afford other basic necessities, such as food, clothing, health care, and utilities (heat, water, and electricity). Those with low incomes may resort to renting substandard housing with exposure to health risks, such as mold, rodents, and lead paint. Overcrowding – defined as “more than two people living in the same bedroom or multiple families living in one residence” – can lead to stress, lack of sleep, and relationship challenges. Children who experience frequent moves are more likely to lack consistent health care and are more prone to chronic conditions. One study also found that housing insecurity for children at age 5 was associated with increased interactions with child welfare and criminal justice at age 9 and with adolescent depression at age 15. Other studies have shown increased psychological distress, increased rates of suicide, and worse self-reported health associated with foreclosure.
Help is Available: How to Get Housing Assistance
Resources for housing assistance, such as voucher programs that can help low-income families, seniors, and veterans pay rent, are available on both federal and state levels. In certain approved circumstances, vouchers may be used to help purchase a home. Local community organizations and housing authorities can also connect you to resources that can help you find more affordable housing.
- USA.gov Housing Help
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): Colorado Housing Authorities
- HUD: Rental Assistance
- Colorado Department of Labor: Division of Housing
RMHP is also here to help. We can connect Members with Health First Colorado or RMHP Prime coverage to local community resources. Contact us for assistance.