Cities and Urbanization

How renting could affect your health

A resident hangs their washing outside their apartment in an otherwise abandoned building on the Aylesbury Estate in  south London, Britain October 15, 2015. In the past decade, 50 social housing estates with 30,000 homes have been regenerated across London. The total number of homes on those locations has doubled, but with a net loss of 8,000 homes available for the lowest social rents. Supporters say regeneration schemes create more and better homes in a city facing a housing shortage and eye-watering property prices. Objectors say they lead to social cleansing, with poor Londoners priced out as neighbourhoods go upmarket.  REUTERS/Neil Hall  TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - LR1EBAJ0RU763

Housing quality can affect the health and security of residents. Image: REUTERS/Neil Hall

Amy Clair
Research Fellow in Social Policy, University of Essex
Amanda Hughes
Senior Research Associate in Epidemiology, University of Bristol
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Cities and Urbanization?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Cities and Urbanization is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Cities and Urbanization

Our homes play a number of vital roles in our lives. They are where we rest, spend time with friends and family, and can be most ourselves. Given this central role it is not surprising that researchers have found a number of important relationships between the homes we live in and our health.

A lot of this evidence uses subjective measures, where people are asked in surveys to rate their health, usually on a scale from poor to excellent. Our recent paper added to this evidence by exploring the association between housing and health using an objective indicator: C-reactive protein (CRP) level. CRP is a marker found in the blood that is associated with infection and stress, and at high levels with increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Image: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health

We found that private renters have higher levels of CRP, indicating worse health, than owner occupiers. People who lived in detached houses had lower CRP compared to people living in other types of housing, such as flats or semi-detached homes. Surprisingly, we found that people paying high proportions of their income on housing costs had lower CRP levels, although only if they were renting. These findings have important implications for current housing debates, particularly in England.

Home quality

The poorer health of private renters in our study may reflect the average lower quality of homes in the sector. Private rented homes, for example, are more likely to have damp than social rented or owner occupied homes, and less likely to have central heating.

Efforts to improve home quality in UK rented sectors have tended to struggle in parliament, raising questions about conflict of interest for MPs who are also landlords. Despite this, from March this year UK landlords will be required to maintain the condition of their properties throughout the tenancy to a habitable standard, with new routes of redress for tenants where these standards are not met.

That our analysis did not find a similarly negative health association for tenants in social housing, where a statutory minimum standard for housing (the Decent Homes Standard) is already in place, suggests that these new protections may improve the health of private tenants.


We also found that paying high proportions of income on housing costs was positively associated with renters’ health. This was a surprising finding given the substantial evidence linking more affordable housing with better health, but likely further emphasises a link with housing quality.

Renters seem to have to place themselves under financial strain to access decent quality housing and avoid the negative health impacts of poor housing. This finding supports efforts to improve housing affordability, challenging the move from social to more expensiveaffordable renthomes, and reductions to housing benefit.

Social housing

In support of this, the charity Shelter recently argued for significantly more social housing to be built. Although expensive, at £10.7 billion per year, the savings from reduced housing benefit expenditure (currently costing the UK government around £21 billion per year) and increased productivity mean the building of 3.1m homes is estimated to pay for itself within 40 years.

Our results suggest further potential savings due to improved health. Additionally, increased building could tackle the significant lack of housing suitable for disabled people, with implications for health, well-being and employment.

Of course, as the Grenfell fire starkly demonstrated, social housing is not without its flaws, but the regulation and enforcement suggested in the report, alongside improvements due to the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act, should make significant improvements.

Have you read?

Right to buy

Meanwhile, a recent report found that over 40% of homes in London sold through the Right to Buy scheme are now in the private rented sector. This level is similar to previous findings.

As well as the important implications for social housing stock and government spending, our results indicate that this shift may well be having a significant impact on health, and provides additional support for calls to suspend or end Right to Buy in England, rather than extend it, as the government currently plans (Right to Buy has already been suspended in Scotland and Wales).


Housing quality is not the only way in which which housing affects health. The poorer health associated with private renting and better health associated with detached homes points to previous evidence linking housing security, autonomy, and control with health.

Tenants in the private rented sector are typically living in homes with tenancies of only six to 12 months, and can be evicted without having done anything wrong (“Section 21” evictions), undermining their sense of security and control. Section 21 evictions are sometimes used for “revenge evictions”, leading to tenants living in substandard homes scared to ask for improvements. Given these conditions, it is unsurprising that private renters are less likely to feel that where they live is their home.

Section 21 evictions are now the most common reason cited by households seeking homelessness assistance in England. Private renters can end up moving so often that some have suggested that they have been forced to become nomadic. Ending Section 21 evictions would improve private renters’ sense of security and control – and potentially health.

Similarly, organisations such as Shelter have campaigned for a switch to landlords providing longer tenancies as standard as one way to improve security for private renters. This idea appears to be gaining some ground: the UK government consulted on introducing three-year tenancies last year.

Together our findings, alongside those from previous research, highlight the importance of thinking about housing policy holistically. Policy should recognise the diverse and important roles housing plays in people’s lives, and prioritise its function as home, rather than asset.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Cities and UrbanizationHealth and Healthcare
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

How Kiel became a pioneering Zero Waste City, and what it can teach the rest of the world

Victoria Masterson

April 17, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum