Background Residents of public housing are often in poor health. However, it is unclear whether poor health precedes residency in public housing. We compared the health of people who applied to public housing to people who did not apply and had similar socioeconomic characteristics.
Methods Population-based administrative databases from Manitoba, Canada, containing health, housing and income assistance information were used to identify a cohort of individuals who applied to public housing and a matched cohort from the general population. Conditional logistic regression was used to test the association between a public housing application and health status and health service use, after controlling for income.
Results There were 10 324 individuals in each of the public housing applicant and matched cohorts; the majority were women, young, urban residents, and received income assistance. A higher per cent of the public housing cohort had physician-diagnosed physical and mental health conditions compared to the matched cohort. Physical health, mental health and health service use were significantly associated with applying to public housing, after controlling for individual and area-level income.
Conclusions Applicants to public housing were in poorer health compared to people of the same income level who did not apply to public housing. These health issues may affect the long-term stability of their tenancy if appropriate services and supports are not provided. Additionally, preventing ill health, better management of mental health and additional supports may reduce the need for public housing, which, in turn, would alleviate the pressure on governments to provide this form of housing.