Study correlates lack of affordable housing with mental health problems

by | Feb 25, 2020 | Blog

Lack of affordable housing can cause more than the obvious attendant stress–it can cause mental health issues as well.

That’s the conclusion of a new study reported in the Denverite that found that people who “spend more than they can comfortably afford on rent” are often the same people suffering from mental health issues.

For the study, researchers developed an online tool that mapped 71 census tracts in neighborhoods across the state. Six percent of those tracts had a higher rate of households spending 30% or more of their income on rent than the state average (which is an eye-popping 50%); those same tracts had mental health issues higher than the state average, as well.

“Ultimately, lack of access to affordable housing is stressful, both physically and emotionally, especially when it may lead to eviction and homelessness,” researchers Jieun Lee and Ivan Ramirez wrote in the study. Lee is an assistant professor in the University of Northern Colorado’s Department of Geography; Ramirez is a visiting assistant professor in the University of Colorado Denver’s Department of Health and Behavioral Sciences.

It’s unclear what role mental health treatment access plays in such neighborhoods, as the areas highlighted were not under-served by treatment and behavioral facilities. But the study is just the start of an examination into the problem.

“Researchers, journalists, and community leaders have the power to frame and use these findings as an opportunity to strengthen communities,” said Elysia Clemens, deputy director of the Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab at the University of Denver, which funded the study. “We have the responsibility to use the information as a conversation starter about how and where to making smart, culturally responsive investments and policies. We also need to acknowledge that this map is one piece of information, not the full story for any community.”

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