Health report links low-income renters and healthcare issues

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Rising rents and limited rental assistance resources have led many low-income renters to put off important health care needs, according to a recent health report.

A wide range of health problems have been linked to low-income renters. After paying rent, not a lot is left over to buy food or medicine. And those who live in poor, segregated neighborhoods lack access to good healthcare and other basic services.

These struggles are visualized in a chart book published in June by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). The chart book uses graphs to clearly show how rising housing costs and health problems are connected.

Explained below are just a few of the highlights from the CBPP’s 25-page chart book.

Incomes have not kept up with housing costs

CBPP shows that while rent climbed by 15% from 2001-2019, renter incomes only rose by 3.4%.

At the same time, federal rental assistance has not kept up with the growing need. Federal affordable housing programs consistently served about 5.2 million households from 2007-2019. By 2019, though, there were 7.8 million low-income renters that needed affordable housing.

The lowest-income renters were hit especially hard

A large majority of renters who pay more than half their income for rent are those with the lowest incomes. Renters earning less than 30% of the Area Median Income made up 63% of those whose rent was more than half of what they earned.

CBPP also shows that without federal housing assistance, the average household in HUD-supported housing would have to pay 60 percent of their income for rent.

Many renters put off critical health care

When renters pay too much for their housing, it leaves little money for other essentials like food, clothes, and medicine. CBPP shows that renters who are worried about being able to pay the rent report more health problems and are very likely to put off critical health care.

Among renters worried about paying the rent:

  • More than 40% deferred health care due to cost.
  • More than 40% were diagnosed with two or more chronic conditions.
  • More than 35% had no annual check-up.
  • Almost 30% had no usual source of care.

Housing and health sector solutions

CBPP has several suggestions to improve health and housing conditions for low-income renters. These suggestions would lower housing costs and improve access to health care for millions of low-income renters across the country.

The chart book shows that renters who receive a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher are far less likely to have housing problems than those without assistance.  

Smaller shares of voucher households lived in crowded conditions or experienced homelessness. Vouchers also improve housing stability, cutting the number of moves over five years by one-third.

Only one-in-four households eligible for Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers receive assistance. Expanding rental assistance to every renter who is eligible would help millions of low-income households afford the rent.

Expanding access to health insurance would help low-income renters around the country get needed health services. It would also improve their financial and housing security. 

Under the Affordable Care Act, states were given the option to expand eligibility for Medicaid coverage. However, 12 states decided not to expand Medicaid.

CBPP shows that in Medicaid expansion states, low-income renters experienced greater financial security. People experiencing homelessness were also more likely to have health coverage. In addition, eviction rates fell in Medicaid expansion states.

As stated on its website, the CBPP is “a nonpartisan research and policy institute that advances federal and state policies to help build a nation where everyone — regardless of income, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, ZIP code, immigration status, or disability status — has the resources they need to thrive and share in the nation’s prosperity.”

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