Academic journal article The Future of Children

Housing, Neighborhoods, and Children's Health

Academic journal article The Future of Children

Housing, Neighborhoods, and Children's Health

Article excerpt


In theory, improving low-income families' housing and neighborhoods could also improve their children's health, through any number of mechanisms. For example, less exposure to environmental toxins could prevent diseases such as asthma; a safer, less violent neighborhood could improve health by reducing the chances of injury and death, and by easing the burden of stress; and a more walkable neighborhood with better playgrounds could encourage children to exercise, making them less likely to become obese.

Yet although neighborhood improvement policies generally achieve their immediate goals--investments in playgrounds create playgrounds, for example--Ingrid Gould Ellen and Sherry Glied find that many of these policies don't show a strong effect on poor children's health. One problem is that neighborhood improvements may price low-income families out of the very neighborhoods that have been improved, as new amenities draw more affluent families, causing rents and home prices to rise. Policy makers, say Ellen and Glied, should carefully consider how neighborhood improvements may affect affordability, a calculus that is likely to favor policies with clear and substantial benefits for low-income children, such as those that reduce neighborhood violence.

Housing subsidies can help families either cope with rising costs or move to more affluent neighborhoods. Unfortunately, demonstration programs that help families move to better neighborhoods have had only limited effects on children's health, possibly because such transitions can be stressful. And because subsidies go to relatively few low-income families, the presence of subsidies may itself drive up housing costs, placing an extra burden on the majority of families that don't receive them. Ellen and Glied suggest that policy makers consider whether granting smaller subsidies to more families would be a more effective way to use these funds.


Housing and neighborhoods shape many dimensions of children's health. Housing's physical condition affects the risk that children will be injured, especially younger children, who spend much of their time at home. Environmental toxins in a child's home, such as mold or lead paint, can cause diseases and disabilities. Poor housing conditions may also cause family stress and lead to behavioral health problems. Neighborhood characteristics also affect the health of children, especially older children, in several ways. Physical characteristics such as crosswalks, sidewalks, and playgrounds shape whether children can play safely and be active outdoors. The presence or absence of grocery stores, fast food outlets, and health care facilities may affect obesity and use of preventive health care. Social characteristics, including rates of violence and disorder, can affect both children's physical wellbeing and their mental health. Two of the five leading causes of death among children over one year old, injuries and homicide, are closely connected to characteristics of a child's home and neighborhood. (1)

Such relationships between a child's physical surroundings and her health have motivated housing and neighborhood policy since at least 1842, when Edwin Chadwick published his pathbreaking Report on the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population of Great Britain, which identified a link between poor living conditions and disease. In the 1930s, public health emerged as a central justification for the federal public housing program. (2) Even today, one of the commonly stated motivations for housing and community development programs is their potential to create healthier environments. For example, the New York State Healthy Neighborhoods Program aims to reduce the incidence of both physical illness and injury through upgrading housing and the surrounding built environment. Similarly, enhancing residents' health is one of the goals of the Choice Neighborhoods Program, an Obama administration initiative that aims to improve both distressed subsidized housing developments and the neighborhoods surrounding them. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.