Housing Affordability
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Affordable housing can affect one’s living environment, physical and mental health, educational attainment, and financial security. The affordability of housing is, at a very basic level, determined by the cost of one’s rent or mortgage given household income. Households may have to sacrifice access to reliable transportation or residence in high-opportunity areas because of the cost of meeting their physical housing needs. Access to affordable housing lifts some of this burden, helping keep families and their children in good physical, mental, and financial health. In turn, this stability leads to better economic outcomes and engagement with one’s community.

Evidence of the Relationship between Predictor and Related Outcomes

  • Desmond (2016) finds that residential stability is the basis of psychological stability, which allows people to invest in their social relationships, communities, health, and education.
  • Research shows that compared with other renters and homeowners, rent-burdened households have higher eviction rates, increased financial fragility, and wider use of social safety-net programs (Currier et al. 2018). Homeownership and residential stability are associated with increased educational achievement, and educational outcomes are better for children living in higher-quality neighborhoods (Vandivere et al. 2006).
  • Higher rent burdens are associated with worse self-reported health conditions and a higher likelihood of postponing medical services for financial reasons (Meltzer and Schwartz 2014).
  • Nobari and colleagues (2018) find that severe housing-cost burden was associated with an increase in the odds of childhood obesity.
  • Households behind on rent have greater odds for poor caregiver health, maternal depressive symptoms, child lifetime hospitalizations, child health, and household material hardships (Sandel et al. 2018).
  • One study based on the National Survey of America’s Families found that children in rent-burdened households had lower health ratings, were held back in school more often, and had additional behavior problems when compared with children in more stable housing (Aratani et al. 2011).

How Investments Can Influence the Predictor at State or Local Levels

Several approaches to increase the availability of affordable housing and helping families find affordable units can reduce housing cost burden. Limited equity cooperatives, in which residents collectively own a share in the building, can boost the inventory of affordable housing. In contrast to market-rate cooperatives, the resale price is restricted to maintain affordability (Howell, Burton, and Clemens 2020). In addition, new development of housing that is more climate resilient can reduce the rate of housing loss or destruction from natural disasters. Housing trust funds and community land trusts (governed by a board of residents, elected officials, and other community members) offer affordable homeownership and rental opportunities for low-and moderate-income families. This results in strong benefits, including improved schooling outcomes for children, increased housing stability, and better community (Austin 2005). San Francisco developed a system to better connect people seeking affordable housing units with those that are available through a centralized housing application portal (Fernandez 2022). 


The primary reference is marked with an asterisk.

Aratani, Yumiko, Michelle Chau, Vanessa R. Wright, and Sophia Addy. 2011. “Rent Burden, Housing Subsidies and the Well-being of Children and Youth.” New York: Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health, National Center for Children in Poverty. 

Currier, Erin, Clinton Key, Joanna Biernacka-Lievestro, Walter Lake, Sheida Elmi, Sowmaya Kypa, Abigail Lantz. 2018. “American Families Face a Growing Rent Burden: High Housing Costs Threaten Financial Security and Put Homeownership Out of Reach for Many.” Washington, DC: Pew Charitable Trusts.

Desmond, Gershenson. 2016. “Who Gets Evicted? Assessing Individual, Neighborhood, and Network Factors.” Social Science Research. 

Fernandez, Emma. 2022. “San Francisco’s One-Stop Affordable Housing Application Portal Could Be a Model for Other Cities.” Housing Matters (blog), Urban Institute, April 13.

Howell, Kathryn, Scott Burton, and Anna Clemens. 2020. “Creating and Sustaining Limited Equity Cooperatives in the District of Columbia.” Washington, DC: Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development.

Meltzer, Rachel, and Alex Schwartz. 2014. “Housing Affordability and Health: Evidence From New York City.” Housing Policy Debate 26 (1): 80–104.

Nobari, Tabashir Z., Shannon E. Whaley, Evelyn Blumenberg, Michael L. Prelip, and May C. Wang. 2019. “Severe Housing-Cost Burden and Obesity among preschool-Aged Low-Income Children in Los Angeles County.” Preventive Medicine Reports 13: 139–45.

Sandel, Megan, Richard Sheward, Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba, Sharon M. Coleman, Deborah A. Frank, Mariana Chilton, Maureen Black, Timothy Heeren, Justin Pasquariello, Patrick Casey, Eduardo Ochoa, and Diana Cutts. 2018. “Unstable Housing and Caregiver and Child Health in Renter Families.” Pediatrics 141 (2).

*Vandivere, Sharon, Elizabeth C. Hair, Christina Theokas, Kevin Cleveland, Michelle McNamara, and Astrid Atienza. 2006. “How Housing Affects Child Well-Being.” Coral Gables, FL: Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities.

Domains, Predictors or Metrics
Opportunity-Rich & Inclusive Neighborhoods

Related outcomes: Stable and healthy living environment; positive socioemotional development; good physical health; strong financial health; age-appropriate cognitive development and educational attainment

Mobility principles engaged: Economic success; power and autonomy