Affordable Housing Benefits Our Mental Health

By Heidi Bitsoli

A roof over your head is something many of us take for granted. Those of us without it, however, are all too aware that it’s more than a place to shelter us from the elements. 

Affordable housing is a key to many benefits well beyond a place to make memories. A home you can afford provides stability and security, and that added peace of mind can do a world of good for our mental health. 

Mental Health Benefits of Affordable Housing

Affordable housing offers several benefits. When you have enough money to pay the rent or mortgage and have funds left over, that gives you more opportunities to invest in your overall health. Medical care, day-to-day necessities, and even a nest egg become all the more possible. That in itself is great for mental well-being.

Reduces Stress

Stress isn’t all bad. In the short term, it can help us focus. It can spark our fight-or-flight response and help us navigate dangerous situations. 

Over the long term, however, stress can do a number on our health. It can cause your muscles to tense, your blood pressure to elevate, and your heart rate to speed up. Too much strain can affect your heart, your immune system, or lead to headaches, muscle aches, and other nagging pains. 

Ongoing or extreme stress can contribute to depression, anxiety, burnout, and more. If stress drags on to make life feel like a relentless struggle, we might resort to substance abuse as a form of escape. That can further harm our minds and bodies.  

Fostering Stability, Providing Opportunity

Generally, housing is considered affordable when you allocate 30% or less of your total income toward rental or mortgage expenses. This percentage generally leaves sufficient funds to help manage other expenses (including any surprises that arise). It could even leave you with some left over to set aside for a rainy day or even stash something toward retirement. That can reduce stress and offer added peace of mind.

Another investment “opportunity” that affordable housing creates is the chance to invest in yourself. You might be able to further your education, and that could lead to better employment prospects. Having a job you love (or at least like) lowers stress, keeps you engaged, keeps you feeling fulfilled, and makes you healthier overall.

Improved Confidence in Children

The National Center on Family Homelessness revealed that among industrialized nations, the United States has the largest amount of homeless children and women. It attributes a lack of affordable housing as one of the primary causes of homelessness.

Forced relocation, evictions, and homelessness are harmful to children and adults alike. For children in particular, it means they may not get the opportunity to settle in at school. That can affect not only their learning but also harm the chances of establishing friendships and opportunities to socialize.

Unstable situations such as homelessness can contribute to the development of mental issues such as depression, low self-esteem, and developmental delays. Living in doubled-up housing, or experiencing frequent moves or foreclosures also elevates stress levels and feelings of hopelessness.

The stability and security tied to putting down roots can improve a child’s confidence, and minimize the likelihood of them developing mental and behavioral issues linked to stress, anxiety, and other woes stemming from unreliable living situations.

Reduced Need for Emergency Healthcare

Access to affordable and stable housing can minimize the need for emergency medical services. That can remedy some of the issues facing homeless individuals with mental health issues as well as ones plaguing domestic violence victims who find themselves struggling for shelter as they try to begin anew.

Stable housing provides safety and refuge, making people less likely to develop chronic illnesses or risk assault or robbery on the streets. It provides a place to keep proper hygiene and makes it easier to social distance during COVID-19 surges. 

Improved Nutrition

Homelessness and instability put children at higher risk of severe health issues. Kids in economically disadvantaged areas are more likely to have elevated lead levels in their blood and face more hospital visits. They can experience behavioral and emotional difficulties associated with high-stress levels (and sometimes due to lead exposure). Additionally, they may suffer from poor nutrition because the housing budget eats up grocery expenses.

A study showed that participants in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) experienced smaller housing costs. Enrollment in the program reduced the chances of unstable housing situations and food insecurity.

Food insecurity can cause mental health problems such as chronic stress, depression, and anxiety. Plus, good nutrition is vital to optimal brain function and can help improve mental health.

Having affordable housing is not just having a roof and four walls surrounding us. It’s a key to improved physical health and emotional well-being.

Sources – Affordable Housing Benefits Health – Stress and Drug Abuse: The Brain Connection – Washington Rehab and Addiction Sources – The Benefits of Affordable Housing – 5 Reasons Loving Your Job Helps You Live Longer – The Characteristics and Needs of Families Experiencing Homelessness – The Polistive Impacts of Affordable Housing on Health: A Research Summary – Access to Affordable Housing Promote Health and Well-Being and Reduces Hospital Visits – Impact of Affordable Housing on Families and Communities: A Review of the Evidence Base – The Impacts of Affordable Housing on Health: A Research – Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food