Most people tend to concentrate on exercise and nutrition when it comes to improving their health, overlooking or not giving enough importance to the living environment. However, new research from the University of Stirling confirms that there is a direct correlation between one’s health and the ability to feel at home.
A total of 75 tenants living in rented accommodation in Glasgow were interviewed three times in the first year of their tenancy to see how their health and well-being were affected by their home environment.
“Importantly, this is not just about obvious housing problems like homelessness or damp, cold properties but about how much people feel at home” – said Dr Steve Rolfe, Research Fellow in Housing Studies at the University of Stirling, who led the study.
Key elements for a good housing experience
Participating tenants were asked a series of questions related to their housing circumstances, health and well-being, the local neighbourhood and financial situation.
“In rented property, our study shows that the behaviour of the landlord or housing organisation is key to whether tenants are able to settle in to a new tenancy. This has a direct correlation to their health and well-being,” added Dr Rolfe.
The research carried out in partnership with Dr Lisa Garnham from the Glasgow Centre for Population Health, identified four key factors of a good housing experience, namely: a good landlord-tenant relationship, a quality property, support with financial obligations and a choice of neighbourhood.
The study also highlights the fact that the proportion of households renting privately has more than doubled since the turn of the century, meaning that one in six households now live in the private rented sector. Those on low income face major challenges in securing affordable housing, given the social housing stock in Scotland is declining at the same time. As a result, vulnerable households are being forced to rent privately, often for many years.
It’s the little things that matter
Following the findings, a series of recommendations with input from policymakers, public health professionals and housing experts were issued including: raising greater awareness of the impact housing can have on tenant’s health and well-being, improved training for housing organisation staff and providing a named main contact to tenants.
“The role of housing as a social determinant of health should also be embedded in public health policy and practice, and we have recommended that it is placed high on the agenda of the new Public Health Scotland,” commented Dr Rolfe.
He added: “Sometimes it’s the little things that make a difference. Tenants told us how important it was to have a named member of staff to contact, who actually knew them and understood their circumstances. Where housing organisations can provide this personal connection for tenants, it helps them to settle quickly into their new tenancy, feel at home and, therefore, have better health and well-being outcomes. And that also means the rent keeps coming in for the organisation.”