Apartment Buildings shown to illustrate new Research Highlights Novel Approach for Identifying Residential Housing with Health Risks

New Research Highlights Novel Approach for Identifying Residential Housing with Health Risks

February 13, 2024

A new theme issue of Health Affairs highlights research and analysis on the influence of housing affordability, quality, and neighborhood conditions on health. The February special edition includes investigations by NYU researchers, including NYU Furman Center and Housing Solutions Lab Faculty Director, Ingrid Gould Ellen, PhD. In Housing-Sensitive Health Conditions Can Predict Poor Quality Housing, the authors detail their development of a housing health index for local governments to identify and target buildings with health risks. The results demonstrate the potential for cities to more proactively conduct building inspections and interventions with an emphasis on resident health. 

Based on New York City, the study analyzed a novel set of linked health and building indicator data to identify a set of 23 housing-sensitive health conditions associated with indicators of poor housing. The researchers measured health using New York State Medicaid claims data and used the New York City Public Advocate’s Landlord Watchlist as a measure of poor housing conditions. Linking the Medicaid claims data to the watchlist data, the study used machine learning to identify housing-sensitive health conditions correlated with a building’s presence on the watchlist. The researchers used these conditions to create a housing health index, which can identify buildings at high risk of having substandard conditions. The analysis found that a high housing health index score was predictive of substantial increases in various indicators of poor housing conditions, including housing code violations, emergency repairs, and 311 complaints.

The research suggests city housing agencies can potentially leverage local Medicaid data to help identify and proactively inspect buildings with issues shown to negatively impact resident health. For example, a city may examine air quality in buildings with elevated asthma-related Medicaid claims. A city housing agency may also consider prioritizing inspections on buildings with high housing health index scores that have not been recently inspected.

The authors noted that housing inspections resulting in code violations, building condemnation, or increased rent could increase tenant displacement and highlighted the need for attendant tenant protections and wrap-around services to support affected residents. 

Read more research and analysis from the Health Affairs special issue on Housing and Health, including an overview co-authored by Professor Gould-Ellen, Neighborhoods And Health: Interventions At The Neighborhood Level Could Help Advance Health Equity.

Listen to Professor Gould Ellen’s Health Affairs Podcast on Housing Mobility and Health.

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