New Report Connects Housing and Health

UI graduate summarizes practicum research

New Report Connects Housing and Health

In December I completed a practicum that began examining the impacts of housing conditions on health in Greater Des Moines. I was a dual degree student in urban planning and public health, and interested in bringing health into a regional plan. Housing Tomorrow was in its initial public participation stage, and I worked with the PCHTF on a series of survey questions to measure housing needs and perceptions of future directions for Greater Des Moines. By now you’ve probably taken the online HT survey, which includes a “health module” of several questions based on my research.

When I started my practicum in August, I knew that housing impacted health and well-being, but I didn’t know which risk factors posed the biggest threat in Greater Des Moines specifically, or how they could be addressed through a regional housing plan. My practicum was research-focused; I used a literature review to identify risk factors associated with housing and the risk factors they can cause. I then used local data to consider community impacts, including the U.S. Census and reports such as the Tomorrow Plan. In order to gain information that could not be reflected in data sources or reports, I conducted a series of interviews with public health and planning professionals in Greater Des Moines.

In the end, my key finding was that affordability in the region greatly impacts mental health conditions, particularly anxiety and depression. Households that make 30 percent or below of area median income, which is approximately $15,000 or less annually, are far more likely to be impacted by affordability, and consequently are at greater risk for developing health conditions.

As you can imagine, the effects of affordability are hard to measure because the health impacts of high housing costs can be indirect and vary from household to household. Fortunately, community responses to the Housing Tomorrow survey will shed light on issues of affordability by examining the stress levels caused by housing payments, and the trade-offs housing-cost burdened households make.

Results outlined in my report are not ground-breaking, nor are they unique to this region. My hope is that the communities of Greater Des Moines can embrace the recommendations in HT, and residents can look forward to a future in which housing is affordable for all. By using practices that address substandard housing and issues of access, I hope this plan can begin to provide home environments that address social determinants of health.

Read my full practicum report by clicking here.

Claire Richmond has an M.P.H in community and behavioral health, and an M.S. in urban and regional planning from the University of Iowa. Her studies focused on housing policy, health communication, and livable communities, particularly on planning for aging adults. She has a B.S in marketing from Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, and a background in graphic design. She moved to Des Moines at the beginning of January and is currently interning at the Polk County Housing Trust Fund while looking for a job in the non-profit or public sector.