New paper by Ang Li, Emma Baker, and Rebecca Bentley has been published in Social Science and Medicine, looking at how stable and secure tenancy affects the mental health and level of psychological distress of private renters compared to home owners. The results suggest that stability helps to close the mental health gap between those two groups by increasing renters well being at a faster rate overtime. This is interesting to me for two reasons: 1) it suggests that ontological security is more important than tenure type. It isn't necessarily homeownership that is protective of mental health. 2) it underscores the relationship between housing and mental health, and that the rights of tenants should be considered a public health issue.
Using a population-based longitudinal dataset in Australia over nearly 20 years, this study examines the impact of tenure instability on mental health and psychological distress among a low-income working-age population. The analysis compares private renters (who are notable for their relative tenure insecurity in the Australian context) and homeowners with similar sociodemographic characteristics. To enhance group comparability and address the presence of time-varying covariates that confound and mediate the relationship between tenure exposure and mental health, marginal structural models were used applying weights estimated cumulatively over time. The results show that while private rental tenants report worse mental health than homeowners initially (mental health difference: Beta = −5.29, 95%CI −7.61 to −2.97; psychological distress difference: Beta = 1.77, 95%CI 0.55 to 2.99), this difference diminishes to become statistically indistinguishable by 5–6 years of occupancy (mental health difference at year 6: Beta = −2.09, 95%CI −4.31 to 0.13, predicted mental health increases: from 65.06 to 69.83 for private renters and from 70.46 to 72.02 for homeowners; psychological distress difference at year 5: Beta = 0.81, 95%CI −0.09 to 1.71, predicted psychological distress decreases: from 19.85 to 18.04 for private renters and from 17.95 to 17.10 for homeowners). Residential stability is particularly beneficial for private renters in early middle adulthood (35–44 years), with each additional year of stable occupancy for private renters correlated with a 0.99 (95%CI 0.46 to 1.53) increase in mental health and a −0.47 (95%CI −0.69 to −0.24) decrease in psychological distress. The findings provide evidence that stable and secure rental tenure is protective of mental health, and the mental health of stable renters becomes comparable to that of homeowners over time. This adds support for housing policies that promote and improve the stability and security of rental tenure.
This demonstrates another dimension to how the housing system effects our life chances and health outcomes.