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Affordable housing for all would save billions in healthcare costs

Photo of parents with child
“Family” photo © Alex Alexi on

Low-income families in unstable housing conditions are far more likely to have preventable health problems. Research from Children’s HealthWatch shows that billions of dollars would be saved in healthcare and educational costs if every family had a stable place to call home.

Children’s HealthWatch used cost-modeling methods that are consistent with those used by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The CBO provides Congress with estimates for the long-term cost and impact of legislative proposals and federal program policies.

If everyone had a stable place to live, Children’s HealthWatch estimates that $111 billion would be saved over 10 years in healthcare costs.

How do these savings break down?

Stable housing for all would improve maternal health conditions, saving $76.8 billion over 10 years. This means avoiding increased costs for hospitalizations, outpatient care, dental procedures, mental health services, and medications.

Children also greatly benefit when everyone has stable housing. $38.3 billion would be saved in healthcare and educational costs if every child had a stable place to live. This means lower costs for hospitalizations, outpatient care, dental procedures, medications, and special education.

When a family is living in unstable housing conditions, it means that they cannot be sure that they will have a roof over their heads from one month to another. For its research, Children’s HealthWatch determined a family was “unstably housed” if it faced any one of the following conditions in the previous year:

  • Unable to pay rent or mortgage on time.
  • Moved two or more times.
  • Experienced homelessness.

How do unstable housing conditions lead to increased healthcare costs?

Both physical living conditions and the high cost of housing can lead to health problems for mothers and children.

Homelessness obviously contributes to a wide range of physical and mental health problems. People living on the streets and in crowded shelters, especially during the COVID pandemic, are far more likely to get sick. Children in these situations face a lot of emotional trauma and often have trouble keeping up with school work.

Low-income renters often find themselves only able to afford the worst quality housing. Apartments and houses that lack electricity, heat, and running water pose health and safety risks. Mold, rats and insects promote a range of health problems, especially for children. Lead paint and contaminated water can cause lasting damage to both adult’s and children’s health.

High rental housing costs and low incomes also add to health problems among low-income renters. When renters pay too much of their income for housing, there is little left over for food, clothes, and medications.

According to a recent report from the General Accountability Office (GAO), renters with the lowest incomes often face extreme housing cost burden. When renters pay more than 30% of their income for rent, they experience housing cost burden.

When renters must pay more than half their income for rent and utilities, they are severely burdened. Renters in these situations are especially vulnerable to losing their homes.

According to the GAO, in 2017 almost half of all renters had housing cost burden. However, most of that burden was faced by renters with the lowest incomes. 89% of renters with extremely low incomes were cost-burdened. 72% of extremely low-income renters were severely burdened, paying more than half their income for housing.

The Children’s HealthWatch projections underestimate the amount of healthcare savings that would come from everyone having a safe, affordable place to live. It does not include the healthcare costs of fathers or households without children, including seniors.

Where you live has a big impact on your health and prospects. Affordable housing also means health equity. Investments in more affordable housing will improve health conditions for everyone in our communities.

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