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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Maryland Research Links Access to Public Housing with Better Health

The University of Maryland School of Public Health’s Dr. Andrew Fenelon led a team of researchers in examining National Health Interview Survey data from 1999-2012, linked to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) records, to examine differences in reported fair or poor health and psychological distress. The researchers compared those currently receiving HUD housing assistance with those who are on HUD’s waitlist to receive housing within two years.

[Photo: Dr. Andrew Fenelon]

HUD offers three different types of assistance to qualifying households. “Public housing” refers to the traditional, large-scale housing complexes that many associate with the concept of government-assisted housing. Dr. Fenelon, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Services Administration, named Chicago’s Cabrini Green as one of the most notorious examples of public housing, but is quick to point out that many of these large complexes are now gone. Modern public housing developments generally contain fewer units and are more fully integrated into cities. “Now the stereotypes are often not true,” he said.

“Multifamily housing” is the arrangement where private landlords receiving funding from HUD to designate all or a portion of a development to those receiving assistance. This is “Section 8” housing.

“Housing choice vouchers” are the largest and most rapidly expanding form of HUD housing assistance, with recipients receiving a fixed monthly amount that can be used towards any housing arrangement.

The study found that housing assistance is associated with improved health and psychological well-being for individuals entering public housing and multifamily housing programs. Interestingly, research did not reveal any health benefits for housing choice voucher recipients.

These findings beg the question, “If living in public housing is good for you, why?” Dr. Fenelon points to this as the direction in which his line of research is going. “This was the tip of the iceberg in looking at a new HUD dataset,” he said.

Housing assistance is extremely underfunded, Dr. Fenelon said, with 10 million people participating in the program, but 30 million people qualifying for it.

This study was published in the American Journal of Public Health online ahead of print February 16: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2016.303649