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A recent study by Deirdre Pfeiffer, “Rental Housing Assistance and Health: Evidence from the Survey of Income and Program Participation,” published in Housing Policy Debate reports that low income households that moved to public housing during the previous year were more likely to report an improvement in their health than similar households who did not move to public housing. The study also found that HUD-assisted renters spent less on healthcare.

Using the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), Dr. Pfeiffer compared the self-reported health status of low income renters who lived in public housing or received Section 8 vouchers with those who did not receive housing assistance. The author hypothesized that housing assistance is associated with better health and lower healthcare costs because assistance lowers households’ housing cost burdens, provides stable housing with less likelihood of eviction, and may enable households to access higher-quality homes and neighborhoods.

Twelve percent of renters that moved into public housing during the previous year reported an improvement in health during the year compared to 8% of those who did not move to public housing. The reduction in cost burdens may reduce stress and leave households with more money to spend on healthcare or healthy activities. The direct connection between cost burdens and self-reported health status was not clearly established, however, so further research is needed on why or how their health status improved. The author found no change in healthcare costs for renters in their first year of housing assistance.

When Dr. Pfeiffer compared households in public housing and Section 8 voucher recipients, regardless of how long they had received assistance (not just within the previous year), with similar households without assistance, she found no difference in self-reported health status. Low income households with Section 8 vouchers and those living in public housing, however, spent between $136 and $167 less on healthcare annually than similar low income households without assistance. Dr. Pfeiffer suggests that households with low fixed housing costs may have less stress and more time and resources to engage in healthy behaviors like exercising or cooking healthy meals, which save healthcare costs over the long-run.

“Rental Housing Assistance and Health: Evidence from the Survey of Income and Program Participation” is available at:

NLIHC March 05, 2018