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The Effects of the Housing Crisis on Vulnerable Workers and Families

a PSC Research Project

Investigators:   Sheldon H. Danziger, Sarah Burgard

This project examines how housing instability – foreclosures, evictions, spells of homelessness, doubling-up to share expenses, and frequent moves – affects the health and mental health of individuals, and analyzes how policy changes included in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of (ARRA) and other recent legislation may buffer adverse housing and health outcomes that are due to the severe recession that started in December 2007. We focus on policies that aim to replace income, extend health care coverage, and help those at risk of losing their housing.

The literature suggests that housing instability is a stressful life event that may influence health directly, through its impact on mental health or health behaviors, or through downward mobility to a poorer residential environment. Housing instability may also be a component of a complex set of events involving financial instability or employment problems. For example, housing instability often results from economic instability, particularly problems caused by employment disruptions. Our goal is to understand how housing instability directly affects health and the ways it may link employment or economic instability with health.

Over the next three years, we will collect and analyze longitudinal survey data gathered from a stratified random sample of 1,000 families residing in Southeast Michigan. The first wave, for which other funds are now available, will be fielded in face-to-face interviews (lasting about 60 minutes) during a 4-month survey period starting in October 2009. The funding requested from the MacArthur Foundation will help fund data collection for the second and third waves, to be fielded in late 2010 and late 2011, and will fund analyses of the three waves of data. The survey instrument is unique in its depth and breadth, covering eight major domains: housing instability, demographics, employment and the labor market, income and assets, health and mental health, material hardships, credit and debt, and public program use, and using previously-validated measures of health problems and items from other national surveys.

With these data we will test three hypotheses: 1) Experiences of housing instability, regardless of the type, source and previous ownership status, will have a detrimental effect on an individual’s health and mental health; 2) Loss of housing due to foreclosures will have a greater negative effect on health or mental health than other types of housing instability; 3) Conversely, other types of housing instability will have a greater negative effect on health or mental health than foreclosures.

While research has shown that employment instability is associated with poorer health, less is known about how different types of housing instability affect health and if they affect owners and renters differently. The current economic environment is also unique because of the large increases in social welfare spending in the ARRA. Our research will help us understand the associations between housing instability, labor market instability and health outcomes and the most promising ways that public policies can intervene to promote well-being of workers and families.

Funding Period: 01/01/2010 to 12/31/2013

Country of Focus: USA

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