Does rental assistance improve mental health? Insights from a longitudinal cohort study

Whitney Denary, Andrew Fenelon, Penelope Schlesinger, Jonathan Purtle, Kim M. Blankenship, Danya E. Keene

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Almost half of renters in the United States are rent-burdened, meaning that they pay more than 30% of their income toward housing costs. Rental assistance through programs administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, alleviates these financial strains for around 5 million households. However, due to budgetary constraints, fewer than one in four eligible households actually receive this assistance and waitlists average two years nationally. Using longitudinal data from a cohort of 400 low-income adults living in New Haven, CT, this paper investigates how access to rental assistance affects mental health through two analytical methods that address selection into rental assistance. First, we performed a cross-sectional analysis to identify how psychological distress differs among those receiving and those on a waitlist for rental assistance. Second, we used a within-person fixed-effects analysis to compare changes in individuals following entry into rental assistance. We find that those receiving rental assistance report significantly less psychological distress than those on waiting lists and that transitions into rental assistance are associated with statistically non-significant decreases in psychological distress. Our findings suggest that expanding rental assistance may be one potential step toward improving the mental health of low-income individuals in the United States.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number114100
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Housing affordability
  • Housing policy
  • Mental health
  • Psychological distress
  • Rental assistance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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