, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 53-100

The Impact of Housing Stressors on the Mental Health of a Low-Income African-American Population

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Health and disease reflect broad social conditions including economic, environmental, and cultural components. The impact of challenging housing conditions experienced by low-income African American households on their mental health is an example of this principle. Do physical housing conditions, the presence of roaches and rodents, plumbing defects, and heating/cooling problems contribute to mental health dysfunction such as being depressed, feeling worried, feeling sad, feeling helpless, and feeling emotionally upset? To address this research question, a sample of 128 households that originally lived in public housing in Washington, D.C. were surveyed. These households had been relocated to other low-income housing during the demolition and reconstruction phase of a HOPE VI project, some to alternative public housing developments and others to private units based on vouchers. The survey included self-reports by heads of household on their housing conditions and mental health status using Likert scales. The survey also asked participants for demographic, socio-economic, and physical health data and for information on neighborhood characteristics. Correlation and regression analyses were used to estimate the impact of building structure, building systems, neighborhood characteristics, physical health, and socio-economic/demographic variables on mental health stresses. Specific housing issues included the number of bedrooms, plumbing, heating, cooling, rodents, roaches, and building security (the independent variables). Mental health stresses (the dependent variables) included feeling depressed, nervous, anxious, sad, helpless, and having trouble concentrating. Several alternative specifications and models were used and estimated. They generally demonstrated strong overall explanatory value. The findings from these models suggested that challenging housing conditions significantly contributed to many mental health disorders. For example, in the 2SLS model of “problem being depressed”, the condition of the apartment (β = 0.278, t = 2.022) and plumbing (β = 0.182, t = 2.145) were significant and the model’s explanatory power was reasonable with an adjusted R2 = 0.221. Many non-housing control variables were also significantly associated with mental health challenges.