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Rising home prices can harm peoples’ health, SFU research finds

May 21, 2024

Rapid increases in housing costs have taken a toll on people, including their health, according to Simon Fraser University (SFU) health sciences researchers.  

A new systematic review of 23 studies, published in BMC Public Health, on the impact of housing prices on health finds that such changes can both positively and negatively impact people’s health.

Previous research has looked at the mechanisms by which housing prices lead to health impacts, including its impact on people’s health protective behaviors. For example, previous studies have found that owning a home can create access to opportunities that further bolster health, while housing-related factors, such as debt, mortgage stress and credit problems, can result in mental health problems and depression. 

Ashmita Grewal

Explaining the differential effects observed between high-income owners and low-income renters, Ashmita Grewal, a SFU master's student, notes that this can be attributed to a “wealth effect,” wherein growing housing prices benefit homeowners due to the increase in their net worth. Meanwhile, renters and low-income individuals are priced out of the market – leading to worry and physiological stress

One study, included in this review, found that depreciating home prices led to increasing alcohol consumption among homeowners, while a study out of Denmark found that the health impact of housing price changes can be muted or mitigated by government policy.

“I hope this review contributes to a shift in the culture surrounding homeownership”, explains Grewal. “We need a shift in culture, where we don’t see housing as solely an investment or a way of gaining capital, but also as a basic living requirement.”  

Kiffer Card, assistant professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences, who supervised the study, notes that among the many reasons housing affects our health is that it plays a key role in our connections to our communities.

“Housing affordability shapes whether individuals can stay in their neighborhoods and communities,” Card says. "When you can’t afford housing, you must move to areas where it is cheaper. This sort of migration has a harmful effect on our social lives and wellbeing, and it erodes the social fabrics of our communities.”

“Being a homeowner doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have positive health impacts and that being a renter doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have negative impacts,” Grewal says. “There are a variety of factors that lead to positive or negative health impacts.”  

In addition to Grewal and Card, the team included Kirk Hepburn and Scott Lear from the Faculty of Health Sciences as well as Marina Adshade from UBC’s School of Economics.