Blog Affordability

Paying the Ultimate Price for Housing: The Case for Affordability

February 07, 2024

Housing has long been studied as a social determinant of health, but past studies have mostly looked at housing quality (for example, lead paint, indoor air pollution) and neighborhood effects (such as segregation) – with less attention paid to rent burden and eviction as determinants of health.

Nick Graetz, Carl Gershenson, Sonya R Porter, Danielle H Sandler, Emily Lemmerman, and Matthew Desmond step in to fill this gap in the research with a paper on [t]he impacts of rent burden and eviction on mortality in the United States, 2000–2019. The researchers combined census data, Social Security records, eviction data, and ACS rent/income data to track more than six million renters over two decades, establishing an association between rent burden, eviction, and increased mortality.

Key Takeaways

  • Rent burden is associated with increased mortality, and the effect scales with the degree of rent burden.
  • Eviction filings that do not result in eviction are associated with a 19 percent increase in mortality, while an eviction judgment is associated with a 40 percent increase. 
  • Policies designed to increase the supply of affordable housing and prevent eviction may lead to widespread improvements in public health.

In housing policy and scholarship, housing is considered “affordable” if residents can rent or own it for ~ 30 percent or less of their take-home income. People paying over 30 percent of their income for housing are considered “rent-burdened;” paying 50 percent or more of income for housing is considered “severely rent-burdened.” 

The researchers find that mortality risk scales with rent burden: “compared with a rent burden of 30 percent, a rent burden of 50 percent was associated with 9 percent higher mortality from 2000 to 2019, and a rent burden of 70 percent was associated with 12 percent higher mortality.”

The increased risk of mortality was even higher for Hispanic and Black men, where an increase in rent burden from 30 percent to 70 percent was associated with a mortality increase of 16 percent. For middle-aged renters, a ten percentage point increase in rent burden was associated with 8 percent higher mortality, while a 20-point increase was associated with 16 percent higher mortality. 

On the topic of evictions, the researchers found that an eviction filing that did not result in eviction was associated with a 19 percent increase in mortality, while an actual eviction order was associated with a 40 percent increase. These associations were larger for those at lower predicted risk of eviction, specifically white renters.

They conclude with a call to increase the supply of affordable housing and prevent eviction through diversion and legal aid as a public health measure.