Prescribing Homes: How Healthcare Organizations Address Housing as a Social Determinant of Health

By Hanna Ridd, RN, BSN

Affordable housing has become a noteworthy issue for communities, policy makers, and healthcare organizations as major shifts in the economy have occurred over the last few years. Hundreds of studies shed light on the connection between health and housing, drawing several interesting conclusions. These studies support that housing is a leading social determinant of health, or nonmedical factor that influences health outcomes1; furthermore, housing stability, affordability, quality, and safety all play roles in affecting individual and community health. The Utah Housing Preservation Fund (UHPF) collaborates with major healthcare organizations like Optum Bank (UnitedHealth Group) and Intermountain Health (IH) to improve public health by acquiring, improving, and managing affordable housing units in the community. 

Housing, as one of the best-researched social determinants of health, has proven to be a distinguished factor affecting health and wellness. Those who experience stable housing avoid the distress that accompanies uncertain daily accommodations, couch surfing, falling behind on rent, and foreclosure, amongst other stress-inducing obstacles. A review of twenty-five studies that investigated the effects of foreclosure on mental health reports that in all twenty-five studies there were “worsened outcomes”, meaning higher levels of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, psychological distress, and suicide.2 In addition, lack of stable housing can interfere with properly storing essential medications like certain types of antibiotics and insulin, as the recipient doesn’t have consistent access to a temperature-controlled environment. The Utah Housing Preservation Fund seeks to promote tenant health and well-being by committing to consistent and affordable rent costs and providing financial relief for tenants when needed. Fund Manager Lukas Ridd states, “We ensure that tenants are not displaced by heavy rent increases that would have otherwise occurred if the property was purchased by a profit-oriented organization.”

With housing and rent prices on the rise, more homeowners and renters are becoming “cost-burdened”.3 This means they are spending more than 30% of their income on their rent or mortgage payment. Ideally, people would have at least 70% of their income available to spend on other life essentials (groceries, healthcare, transportation, etc.). Health Affairs reports, “Severely cost-burdened renters are 23% more likely than those with less severe burdens to face difficulty purchasing food. Homeowners who are behind in their mortgage payments are also more likely to lack a sufficient supply of food and to go without prescribed medications, compared to those who do not fall behind on payments.”4 This financial dilemma becomes a sacrifice in well-being as people are not able to give their bodies adequate nutrients to fight disease.  

As more people find themselves in a “cost-burdened” predicament, renters and homeowners alike are being forced to sacrifice spending on health-generating goods (gym memberships, healthful foods, medications, etc.). Research reported by Health Affairs states, “Low-income families with difficulty paying their rent or mortgage or their utility bills are less likely to have a usual source of medical care and more likely to postpone needed treatment than those who enjoy more-affordable housing.”5

The quality and safety of a home present a tangible connection between health and housing. Proper home maintenance is critical, as one spends on average at least a third of their life in their home. Exposure to toxic materials, such as lead and asbestos found primarily in homes built before 1986, poses a risk to occupants. Lead can be found in plumbing pipes or paint on the walls. Lead poisoning, a gradual, undetectable process, causes irreversible damage to children’s brains and nervous systems. Other safety hazards include water leaks, poor ventilation, dirty carpets, and pest infestation, which are all associated with poor health outcomes.6 Promoting adequate ventilation allows for irritants to be filtered through the home, causing less irritation and damage to the respiratory tract, especially for those with asthma. Additionally, the likelihood of having a cardiovascular event increases for those who are already at risk when they are exposed to unregulated, extremely cold temperatures. As the body’s vessels instinctively narrow in response to low temperatures, blood cells are more likely to agglomerate causing heart attacks and/or strokes.7 Ensuring that homes are clean, well-ventilated, temperature-regulated, and clear of toxic materials is essential for optimal cardiovascular, respiratory, and neurological health.

Policymakers and major healthcare organizations are proactively responding to the burden the housing crisis is generating in Utah. Intermountain Health and Optum Bank have partnered with Utah Housing Preservation Fund to create more affordable housing in Utah by investing $10 million and $15 million, respectively. Their missions reflect their desire to help people “live the healthiest lives possible” as well as “ the healthcare system work better for everyone”. IH and Optum Bank have invested based on the promising research that affordable housing is an impactful social determinant of health, resulting in a healthier, happier population. For example, research directed by the Center for Outcomes Research and Education (CORE) and sponsored by Enterprise Community Partners discovered that affordable housing “reduced overall health care expenditures by 12% for Medicaid recipients.”8 Researchers credit these savings to “more cost-efficient use of health services, with an 18% decrease in costly emergency department (ED) visits and a 20% increase in less costly primary care services.”9  Utah Housing Preservation Fund is grateful to partner with these healthcare organizations to establish more affordable housing units in Utah.

         The Utah Housing Preservation Fund, in conjunction with Optum Bank and Intermountain Health, promotes healthier living by creating stable and affordable housing environments for Utah residents. Research shows that by increasing access to affordable housing, healthcare costs decrease and well-being increases. These organizations recognize the impact that housing quality, safety, stability, and affordability has on individual and community health.

About the author: Hanna Ridd is a registered nurse and a freelance healthcare writer. As a part-time emergency department nurse in Utah, she sees firsthand some of the struggles that come with unstable housing situations. For more information or questions about this article, email


1 Social Determinants of Health at CDC,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, December 8, 2022,

2 Lauren A Taylor, “Housing and Health: An Overview of the Literature | Health Affairs Briefs,” Health Affairs, June 7, 2018,

3 About the Gap Report,” National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2022,,its%20income%20on%20these%20expenses.

4 Lauren A Taylor, “Housing and Health: An Overview of the Literature | Health Affairs Briefs”

5 Lauren A Taylor, “Housing and Health: An Overview of the Literature | Health Affairs Briefs”

6 Lauren A Taylor, “Housing and Health: An Overview of the Literature | Health Affairs Briefs”

7 Keigo Saeki, Kenji Obayashi, and Norio Kurumatani, “Short-Term Effects of Instruction in Home Heating on Indoor Temperature and Blood Pressure in Elderly People: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” Journal of hypertension, accessed April 25, 2024,

8 Study Finds Affordable Housing Reduces Health Care Costs,” National Low Income Housing Coalition, March 7, 2016,

9 Study Finds Affordable Housing Reduces Health Care Costs