Is public housing the cause of poor health or a safety net for the unhealthy poor?
Research has shown that public housing residents have the worst health of any population in the USA. However, it is unclear what the cause of that poor health is among this population. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the association between public housing and health conditions: specifically, we ask if residents entered public housing already ill or if public housing may cause the poor health of its residents. The data used for this study come from the GSU Urban Health Initiative, which is a prospective, mixed-methods study of seven public housing communities earmarked for demolition and relocation (N = 385). We used the pre-relocation, baseline survey. We found that, while health was not the main reason residents gave for entering public housing, the majority of public housing residents entered public housing already ill. Substandard housing conditions, long tenure in public housing, and having had a worse living situation prior to public housing were not associated with an increased risk of a health condition diagnosed after entry into public housing. Our findings suggest that public housing may have provided a safety net for the very unhealthy poor.