Momentum Grows for Housing as Health Care

by Maya Brennan

A steady drumbeat of research has documented that stable, decent, and affordable housing in a safeneighborhood provides a platform for good health and for managing chronic health conditions. International comparisons have consistently shown that the United States is not keeping up with other developed nations on health outcomes, despite outspending them on health care. These two facts are likely related.

As research on the social determinants of health has shown, health care is not the primary driver of health. To move the needle on health, the United States would need to focus on economic and social factors, including housing, education, and employment. Yet, when social program spending and health care spending (as a share of gross domestic product) are added together, the United States’ investment in health moves from the top to the middle of the pack, according to the popular 2013 book The American Health Care Paradox.

Economic and social factors explain health disparities within the United States. As shown in the Picture of Health, access to health-supporting resources and health outcomes varies by income, and segregation and discrimination may contribute to further racial and ethnic disparities.

Allowing these health disparities to continue is a human-interest and fiscal problem. Children’s HealthWatch and the National Housing Conference found that for children who experienced homelessness by age 4, homelessness led to an estimated 18,600 avoidable hospitalizations at a total annual cost of more than $238 million.

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