The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to rethink how we approach health and protect our populations. It has amplified social and economic vulnerability. The pandemic has almost certainly brought housing and health together in our minds.

Housing – its ability to provide shelter, its quality, location, warmth – has proven to be a key factor in the pandemic’s “syndemic” nature. That is, as well as shaping exposure to the virus itself, housing contributes to the social patterning of chronic diseases that increase COVID-19 risks.

Housing and health are intertwined

Housing affects health in many ways. At the broad scale, housing disadvantageunaffordable housing and housing of poor quality have been the focus of much recent Australian research. More specific housing drivers of healthy, such as household mould, injury, overcrowding, noise, cold and damp, have received renewed global attention.

we estimate the health-related cost  due to respiratory and cardiovascular disease that can be attributed to mouldy or damp housing is about three times the cost attributable to sugary drinks in Australia. Damp, cold and mouldy housing generates a substantial unhealthy burden and could be an easy target for public healthy prevention strategies.

This estimate of health burden does not even factor in the important role housing plays in mental health. Housing affordability, security, suitability, location and condition are all associated with good mental health.

We have previously estimated more than 2.5 million Australians are living in unhealthy housing — and that this number is rising.

COVID adds urgency to rethinking our approach

COVID has caused us to rapidly rethink public housing, nursing homes, share houses and small inner-city apartments. When choosing our current housing, few of us would have factored in the potential for isolation and loneliness, the need for separate working and study spaces, access to private green space, or the infection risk of shared lifts.

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