Saturday, April 2, 2016

Affordable housing supports health of vulnerable infants

Solutions through research
by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference

New research by Children’s HealthWatch adds new evidence to our understanding that affordable and stable housing has an important and positive impact on the health of children, and can lead to better health outcomes and lower health care spending. The new research is explained in Housing as a Health Care Investment: Affordable Housing Supports Children’s Health, a brief co-authored by the researchers at Children’s HealthWatch and the National Housing Conference (NHC). This brief follows up on a previous brief by NHC and Children’s HealthWatch, Compounding Stress: The Timing and Duration Effects of Homelessness on Children’s Health, which shows that homelessness is associated with poor health outcomes in children.

In addition to expanding the evidence base exploring how affordable and stable housing impacts children’s health, working with the Children’s HealthWatch researchers on the brief also provides an example of the different lenses and perspectives that practioners and researchers in the housing and health fields use. Initially, I was curious about the decision by Children’s HealthWatch researchers to look specifically at low-income families who are food-insecure, meaning they cannot consistently access enough or adequate food. The Children’s HealthWatch researchers explained that food-insecurity is an important indicator of vulnerability among low-income families. Upon further research, I began to better understand why health professionals would use food insecurity as an indicator that families have various complex needs in addition to their low income.

One recent study by the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California Berkeley found that food-insecurity among children, after controlling for income, is related to several factors. Children from families headed by women or individuals with a disability are more likely to be food-insecure than children in families with similar incomes. The likelihood that a low-income child will be food-insecure is also associated with their family head being a recent immigrant or a renter versus a homeowner. These research findings point to the fact that income is not the sole factor in food insecurity or vulnerability among children. Children are more likely to be food-insecure if their families face additional challenges associated that present barriers to stability, employment or achieving other family goals. These families have serious and complex needs that make them vulnerable.

This all ties back to the importance of this new research by Children’s HealthWatch. It is very difficult to resolve or overcome the many challenges and barriers that vulnerable families face. However, it is striking that living in stable and affordable housing can have such a positive impact on the health of children. This points to the need for more access to affordable and stable housing for vulnerable families as a way to effectively support positive health outcomes. Affordable and stable housing can provide a first step to vulnerable families working to address their complex needs. 

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