Unaffordable rents linked to premature death

Demonstrators gather during a protest against the expiration of the eviction moratorium outside of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Sunday, Aug. 1, 2021.

Stefanie Reynolds | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Renters burdened by unaffordable housing costs may be at a higher risk of dying sooner, according to a new study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

An individual paying 50% of their income toward rent in 2000 was 9% more likely to die over the next 20 years compared with someone paying 30% of their income toward rent, according to the study from researchers at Princeton University and the U.S. Census Bureau’s Center for Economics Studies. Someone paying 70% of their income toward rent, meanwhile, was 12% more likely to die.

“We were surprised by the magnitude of the relationship between costs and mortality risk,” said Nick Graetz, a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University and the study’s lead author. “It’s an especially big problem when we consider how many people are affected by rising rents. This isn’t a rare occurrence.”

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Rising rents have far outpaced wages, leaving the typical renter in the U.S. paying 30% or more of their income for housing. In 2019, 4 in 5 renter households with incomes below $30,000 were rent-burdened.

The Princeton researchers collaborated with the Census Bureau to create a dataset that allowed them to follow individual renters from 2000 on. They analyzed millions of records to understand the link between rent burden, eviction and mortality for people.

In addition to the consequences of unaffordable rent, they found that even being threatened with eviction was associated with a 19% increase in mortality. Receiving an eviction judgment was associated with a 40% increase in the risk of death.

CNBC interviewed Graetz about the study findings. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

‘As rents go up, families cut back on other spending’

Annie Nova: What is it about being rent-burdened that increases mortality?

Nick Graetz: We know housing is the primary cost for American families, and as rents go up, families cut back on other spending, including on essentials that affect their health.

For example, poor households with children who are moderately rent-burdened, devoting 30% to 50% of their income to rent, spend 57% less on health care and 17% less on food compared to similar unburdened households.

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AN: Why is eviction, even more than being rent-burdened, linked to higher mortality?

NG: Eviction is a really traumatic event that leads to disenrollment from social safety net programs, such as Medicaid. It can also lead to job loss and a host of other negative consequences.

Eviction can compromise a person’s physical and mental health by exposing them to prolonged periods of intense housing precarity, including…

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Unaffordable rents linked to premature death

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