Federal Housing Assistance, Food Security, and Health

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A person’s housing has multiple facets that can directly and indirectly affect his or her health: affordability, quality, stability, and location. Despite the growing evidence of the importance of housing to health, the effects of federal housing assistance programs on health outcomes remains underexplored.

Federal housing assistance benefits 11 million people through three main programs: public housing, project-based Section 8 housing, and housing choice vouchers. To be eligible for these programs, household income must fall below 80 percent of the area median income—participants contribute 30 percent of their income toward rent and the local housing authority pays the rest.

For the past several years, the research team has been examining the impact of federal housing subsidies on health, well-being, health behaviors, and food security. The approach is twofold: compare people receiving federal housing subsidies with people who will receive federal housing subsidies in the future, and assess the causal impact of federal housing subsidies on key health outcomes including food insecurity, asthma, diabetes, hypertension, and depression.

So far the team has found, like others, that receiving federal housing subsidies is associated with a variety of health-promoting behaviors. Yet people in the sample who are disproportionally “long stayers” seem to be quite different than new entrants. Therefore, future analyses will use people who have been receiving federal housing subsidies for less than five years and compare them with people who will receive them within the subsequent five years.

The team’s next phase of work will use four years of additional National Health Interview Survey-US Department of Urban Development–linked data to update previous findings.

Key staff: Anuj Gangaopadhyaya, PhD, Sue Popkin, PhD