Does the Value of Housing Assistance Impact Health Outcomes?

This project will address two questions about federal low-income housing assistance programs:

  1. Does the value of housing assistance impact health outcomes of beneficiaries?
  2. Does this impact vary across types of federal housing assistance programs?

Regarding the first question, one of the strategic goals of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to “utilize HUD assistance to improve health outcomes.” Yet research on how federal low-income housing programs impact health outcomes is limited. No study has been done to determine if the monetary value of housing assistance has an impact on health outcomes. This project will use a novel approach to calculate the monetary value of housing assistance and hypothesizes a positive relationship between the value of housing assistance and health outcomes.

Much of the research on how housing assistance impacts households examines only the presence or absence of housing assistance without taking into consideration the kind of assistance received. Hence the second question considers the differential effect of several types of housing assistance programs that HUD offers to the roughly 9.8 million individuals receiving assistance. The research will categorize programs into three main program types:

  • Housing Choice Voucher program which enables households to rent private market housing of their choice, with households contributing a proportion of their income and the local public housing agency paying the remainder up to a locally determined payment standard
  • Public Housing in which the local Public Housing Authority provides housing out of the available stock of units that it manages, which may vary from single-family homes to large, high-rise apartments
  • Multifamily programs which provide subsidies directly to private property owners who set aside a share of their units to be rented at below-market rates for program participants.

The research will leverage the unique potential of a newly available dataset that links responses from the National Health Interview Survey from 1999-2012 with HUD administrative records from 1999-2014. These linked datasets are considered restricted-use data and are only available through the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) Research Data Center. The project will use these data to measure both the explicit value (such as actual dollar amount of assistance) and implicit value (such as the difference between HUD rent contribution and the fair market rent) of housing assistance provided to households. It will introduce several methodological improvements to prior research intended to provide an unbiased estimate of the relationship between the monetary value of housing assistance and health outcomes. The researchers anticipate a sample size of about 59,000.

This work was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Policies for Action program.


Thomas Byrne
Principal Investigator

Daniel P. Miller
Co-Principal Investigator

Project Impact

Findings from the study may inform policy proposals related to HUD housing assistance. Housing assistance is a scarce benefit, and findings from this study may help make a clear case for expanding such assistance and inform how existing (limited) resources can be used in the most efficient and effective manner to promote population health. By providing evidence about how an important category of social spending impacts population health, findings may also support the value of integration of social services and health care system to improve population health.