The coronavirus is exposing how vital stable housing is to healthcare

Originally published on Fast Company.

Housing is more than a basic need—it’s a key part to healthcare. Amid the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, that aspect of healthcare is both more needed and more precarious than ever. There are already nearly 10 million very low-income renter households across the U.S., and another 1.5 million will become very or extremely low income as a result of the coronavirus crisis and the subsequent financial fallout, according to an estimate from the National Low Income Housing Coalition—adding stress to an already stressed housing system, and further highlighting that link between housing and health.

Megan Sandel, codirector of the GROW clinic at Boston Medical Center, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Boston University, and an advocate for health through housing, has long talked about how housing—and its quality, stability, affordability, and location—acts as a kind of vaccine against all types of illness. “You can’t separate your health from where you live,” she says, speaking on a recent web panel hosted by the Urban Land Institute. Though social factors like food security or housing instability or healthcare costs are often talked about in isolated terms, she adds, they are actually interlaced, and the pandemic is highlighting those connections.

Research has shown multiple links between inadequate housing and poor health, from worsening asthma and allergies to the dangers of lead, from injuries related to things like poor insulation and faulty appliances and rodent infestations to psychological and behavioral issues caused or worsened by the environment. For these communities, Sandel is worried about what our new normal of living will mean for those people’s health, and not just in terms of COVID-19 specifically. “What’s important to think about in the COVID-19 era is that our homes are not necessarily designed to be occupied 24 hours a day,” she says. “Think about chemical exposure, stresses . . . we have to be thoughtful about whether we can be able to design housing in the future that is going to be more resilient.”