Higher proportion of social housing in communities promotes tenant health, researchers say

Arbitrarily limiting the proportion of social housing in new developments reduces the amount of social housing available without providing any health benefits to tenants, researchers at the University of Otago, Wellington have found.

Researchers from the He Kainga Oranga Housing and Health Research Group at the University say that historically people have advocated for developments where public housing is limited to around 30% of total housing. This is based on development costs, as well as the idea that these proportions provide better social outcomes for public housing tenants.

Principal Investigator Dr. Elinor Chisholm

However, lead researcher Dr Elinor Chisholm says their recently published research found that social housing tenants living in areas with a higher proportion of social housing actually had better health outcomes.

Researchers used Stats NZ’s Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) to find people living in public housing at the 2013 census, then analyzed their health outcomes five years later by measuring their levels of hospitalizations, outpatient mental health consultations and pharmaceutical prescriptions.

“As the proportion of public housing tenants in the local population increased, their rate of hospitalization decreased, as did the likelihood of them using outpatient mental health services and the number of prescriptions they received,” explains Dr. Chisholm.

“Planning for a greater proportion of social housing in streets and neighborhoods would not only benefit social housing tenants, it would result in more social housing overall, at a time when social housing are in high demand.”

Their modeling showed that the positive results were reversed where there were very high densities of social housing tenants in a neighborhood, but these were at much higher levels than would normally occur in New Zealand.

Image by Nevil Pierse 2022

Associate Professor Nevil Pierse

A co-author of the research, Associate Professor Nevil Pierse, says it makes sense to increase the proportion of social housing in new developments.

“There were still over 26,500 households on the waiting list for social housing in June 2022, despite recent increases in social housing supply.

“We urgently need to provide more social housing to allow people to live in dignity. Being housed is much more important for health than the proportion of social housing in the community.

Dr Chisholm says social housing tenants can benefit from living close to others like them by forming supportive communities with other low-income people and being in places closer to social services.

The study was large, with researchers analyzing the health outcomes of more than 152,000 people living in public housing in 2013. They were predominantly Maori (36%) or Pasifika (42%) and had an average income of just NZ$11,473 for the year 2013.


Does the proportion of public housing tenants in a community affect their well-being? Results from New Zealand: a retrospective cohort study using linked administrative data.

Elinor Chisholm, Oliver Robertson, Philippa Howden-Chapman and Nevil Pierse, University of Otago, Wellington.



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