What Are the Connections between Housing Discrimination and Health?

What Are the Connections between Housing Discrimination and Health?
Roshanak Mehdipanah, Jessica Ramirez, Shanti Abedin, and Sherrill F. Brown
Social Sciences
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Many families across America experience housing discrimination when they search for, rent, or purchase a home. Although the 1968 Fair Housing Act outlaws such discrimination, the number of housing discrimination complaints filed is increasing. According to the National Fair Housing Alliance, the most common types of complaints are based on disability, race, and family status. Many studies have documented the connection between housing segregation and health outcomes, but few have connected housing discrimination—a key source of segregation—to health. In this 2018 study, researchers from the University of Michigan sought to determine the key connections between housing discrimination and health.

To do this, researchers surveyed employees from 20 fair housing organizations nationwide by emailing frontline staff the statement, “One way housing discrimination affects people’s well-being is…” and asking staff to respond with as many answers as they wanted. Six weeks later, after the researchers had collected all the responses, they emailed the participants again, this time asking them to sort the statements into clusters that made sense to them and to name each cluster. They also asked participants to rank the statements according to their “health importance” (i.e., how significant the statement was to health or well-being) and to their “prevalence” (i.e., how common the statement was, based on what they hear in their jobs). Seventeen people participated in the brainstorming round and 14 people participated in the sorting and ranking round. The researchers then used the participant-created clusters to lay out their concept maps.

Key findings

  • The concept map consisted of five overarching clusters representing main themes that “link pathways” between housing discrimination and health: access and barriers, opportunities for growth, neighborhood and communities, physical effects of housing discrimination, and mental health.
  • Participants ranked access and barriers and opportunities for growth as the most important linking pathways for health, meaning that participants felt that these housing discrimination categories have the highest potential to affect a person’s health.
  • Participants ranked opportunities for growth and neighborhoods and communities as the most prevalent, meaning they hear about these categories most frequently in their jobs.
  • The clusters physical effects and mental health were both ranked lower than other categories for health importance and prevalence. The researchers posited that this could be a result of the participants’ awareness of the salience of longer-term effects of housing discrimination on well-being through economic and social opportunities.
  • The most common responses to the researchers’ initial prompt had to do with wealth accumulation, healthy lifestyles, and housing choice limitations.

Research implications

Although this study does not directly link housing discrimination to health outcomes, the results suggest promising avenues for more in-depth research on the topic. In particular, both the health importance and the prevalence of responses in the opportunities for growth category suggest a focus for future research studying how housing discrimination affects health.

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