Photo of a sign that read "Apartment for Rent" on a glass door. You can see stairs through the door and there is a phone number written below the sign.
Photo by Simon Law, Flickr CC

Sociologist Matthew Desmond’s popular book, Evicted brought to light just how precarious housing can be for someone living in poverty in the United States, but there’s far more to the challenges than money alone. One important and under-appreciated aspect of housing insecurity involves health, and sociologists have shown that the relationships between health and housing are more complicated than you might imagine.

On the one hand, a health crisis can propel a whole family into housing hardship. For instance, one study found that when one member of a household experiences a drastic change in health, the household is much more likely to miss a utility payment. And once they miss that payment, they are less likely to be able to recover the next year, pushing the household further into economic disadvantage.

But the relationship also goes the other way around: Health often suffers following housing precarity. People who have experienced some kind of housing insecurity — getting behind on rent payments, moving for cost of housing, experiencing homelessness — were more likely to report anxiety and depression than those who had not experienced housing insecurity. One particular study showed that evicted mothers were more likely to report depression and poor health for themselves and their children when compared to mothers who were not evicted.

More positively, getting access to housing while already experiencing housing insecurity can have health benefits. For instance, children who lived in public housing had better mental health outcomes than those who were still on the waiting list.

Policy makers and community organizations can utilize social science research on health and housing to improve housing security in the future.