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The Maritime Community Health and Housing Initiative: Investigating the impact of public housing on mental health and healthcare use in low-income households in New Brunswick

Category(s): Health
Status: Active
Principal: Julia Woodhall-Melnik
Project Number: P0064
Year Approved: 2023

Project Description

Income and housing are pervasive social determinants of health. New Brunswick is experiencing a low-income epidemic. New Brunswick's low-income rate is significantly higher than the overall rate of low-income in Canada. Rent geared-to-income (“public”) housing provides low-income households with more affordable accommodations. In theory, subsidized rents should provide greater access to residual income, which can improve health outcomes. Public housing should also have the potential to contribute to the health and wellbeing of low-income tenants by providing stability and affordability. However, to date, little is known about the health and wellbeing of tenants who reside in public housing. Despite growing evidence of the contributions of housing and income to health, there has been little research on public housing as a health promotion tool in rural communities and small cities. Further, research on public housing in the Maritimes is virtually non-existent. This is especially problematic for New Brunswick, a province with a rural landscape and low population density, whose inhabitants also experience challenges with mental health, income inequality, social exclusion, and lengthy waitlists for primary care physicians. This study addresses a large gap in knowledge of the contributions of housing to health. Public housing applicants will be systematically surveyed on their mental health at baseline and again at 6 month intervals as they wait for and are housed in public housing. Additionally, participants' housing dates will be linked to a provincial administrative database using health card numbers. This database contains the Discharge Abstracts Database (DAD) that will be used to compare healthcare use for a period of 18 months pre and post-move. Healthcare use is operationalized in the DAD as visits to primary health providers, walk-in clinics, and hospitalizations. Knowledge of housing and health is sparse in Canada and this study provides crucial information on the contribution of housing to health. This study will provide stakeholders with a wealth of health information on a population that is historically under-researched, underserved and unhealthy.