Improving the Health of All Americans Through Safe and Healthy Housing

Our chances of becoming sick and dying early are greatly influenced by powerful social factors including income, education, nutrition and housing. Poor quality and inadequate housing contributes to health problems such as infectious and chronic diseases, injuries and inadequate childhood development.

Facts and Figures

More than 6 million occupied housing units in the United States have moderate or severe physical deficiencies. Substandard housing conditions can lead to poor health: 

  • Lead poisoning irreversibly affects brain and nervous system development, resulting in lower intelligence and reading disabilities. Between 1998 and 2000, a quarter of the nation’s housing—24 million homes—was estimated to have significant lead-based paint hazards.
  • Indoor allergens and dampness play an important role in the development and exacerbation of respiratory conditions including asthma, which currently affects over 20 million Americans and is the most common chronic disease among children. Among the 6.7 million children with diagnosed asthma approximately 40 percent of cases are believed to be attributable to residential exposures. 
  • Structural features of the home—such as steep staircases and balconies, lack of safety devices such as window guards and smoke detectors and substandard heating systems— can lead to injury. In 2007, nearly one-half of the 34.3 million medically consulted injury and poisoning episodes occurred in or around the home.

Housing is often unaffordable:

  • An estimated 17 million households in the United States pay more than 50 percent of their incomes for housing, 71 percent of lower-income families lack affordable housing, compared with 9 percent of higher-income families.
  • Households with children in the lowest income quartile that spend more than 50 percent of income on housing have, on average, just $257 per month for food, $29 for clothing and $9 for health care.