The housing crisis that precipitated our ongoing recession began with the foreclosure of 15% of US mortgages. There remains substantial disagreement, however, about whether and how public health departments should specifically address health problems experienced by the people who lost their homes in this crisis. While poor housing quality and homelessness have been statistically correlated to illness for many years, some argue that the correlation merely represents the influence of other factors that are common among people with housing insecurity: indebtedness and inability to pay for medical services, unemployment and associated insurance loss, food insecurity, mental illness, substance abuse, or family instability resulting in poor healthcare seeking or inadequate medical adherence.
As a result, it’s not obvious whether having health departments improve housing availability or quality will necessarily improve health conditions among the groups who face foreclosure. If better housing is really directly linked to better health outcomes, then health departments should expect a return on their investment in housing programs for this group. But if the statistical finding is merely secondary to other factors like indebtedness, then the money might be better spent elsewhere, for example in debt repayment programs, or in preventing the type of predatory banking practices that lead to the foreclosures. In this post, we try to answer the question: is the foreclosure crisis making people sick? And if so, what interventions have been shown to work, if any?