Housing, Health and Accessibility

Multi coloured graphic depicting the key elements in the guidelines "How housing can improve health and well-being".There are five key areas for healthy housing and accessibility is one of them. The WHO guidelines on housing and health and accessibility takes into consideration ageing populations and people with functional impairments. It recommends an “adequate proportion of housing stock should be accessible.

In the remarks section it argues that living in an accessible home improves both independence and health outcomes. Although the guidelines argue for a proportion of housing stock it has put the issue on the agenda. It shows it is as important as all other factors. However, the notion of proportion can lead some agencies to think that means specialised and segregated housing. It is worth noting that the lead author of this section is an Australian, Professor Peter Phibbs.

The other key areas are crowding, indoor cold, indoor heat, and home safety. For more detail there is an additional document showing method and results of the systematic review that underpinned this section of the Guidelines – Web Annex F. and includes interventions such as home modifications and assistive technology. 

The Healthy Home

View of the website landing page for Healthy Home Guide.Joining the dots between all aspects of physical and social sustainability is important for a healthy life and a healthy planet. Central to this is the design of our homes. The Healthy Housing Design Guide from New Zealand says they need to be durable, efficient in size and cost, and friendly to the occupants and the environment.

The three bar menu icon on the landing page of this online resource takes you to the content of the Guide. Universal Design leads in the table of contents. This is pleasing as most other guides leave it to a last thought at the end. The design detail features wheelchair users for circulation spaces, which, of course are good for everyone. Among the interesting images is a lower storage draw doubling as a step for child to reach the kitchen bench. The case studies focus on energy efficiency and sustainability.

This is a comprehensive document starting with universal design, site and location, through to air quality and acoustics and ending with certifications. The Guide characterises a healthy home by the acronym HEROES:

      • Healthy: Promoting optimal health and wellbeing through its design, resilience, and efficiency.
      • Efficient: Size and space, affordable and energy positive for the life of the building.
      • Resilient: Resilient enough to withstand earthquakes and climatic conditions. Durable to stand the test of time.
      • On purpose:  Designed specifically with Heroes in mind and fit for purpose.
      • Environmental: Socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable to build and run. Considerate of Climate Change.
      • Sustainable: Meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The style of the website is pleasing but the landing page gives little idea to navigation. It says “Welcome” and then asks visitors to stay super involved. There is a bar with an arrow to go to the Foreword. The navigation is via the three bar menu icon at the top left of the page. 

The video from the launch of the guide takes you through the content. Universal Design gets a mention at the 25 minute mark. It is introduced by Henry McTavish.

Relationship between housing and health

A yellow brick house with yellow steps to the front door set back under a red brick archway.By undertaking a systematic review of the literature, Janet Ige and colleagues in UK found there is a strong association between housing and health. However, it is not clear that there is a causal link and their article argues that more research needs to be done. The team found more than 7,000 studies on the topic, with 39 matching their criteria for analysis. Findings showed that housing refurbishment and modifications, provision of adequate heating, improvements to ventilation and water supply were associated with improved respiratory outcomes, quality of life and mental health. The title of the article is, The relationship between buildings and health: a systematic review, and this can be downloaded from the Journal of Public Health, or you can download the PDF directly. 

Abstract: Background – The built environment exerts one of the strongest directly measurable effects on physical and mental health, yet the evidence base underpinning the design of healthy urban planning is not fully developed.  

Method: This study provides a systematic review of quantitative studies assessing the impact of buildings on health. In total, 7127 studies were identified from a structured search of eight databases combined with manual searching for grey literature. Only quantitative studies conducted between January 2000 and November 2016 were eligible for inclusion. Studies were assessed using the quality assessment tool for quantitative studies.

Results: In total, 39 studies were included in this review. Findings showed consistently that housing refurbishment and modifications, provision of adequate heating, improvements to ventilation and water supply were associated with improved respiratory outcomes, quality of life and mental health. Prioritization of housing for vulnerable groups led to improved wellbeing. However, the quality of the underpinning evidence and lack of methodological rigour in most of the studies makes it difficult to draw causal links.

Conclusion: This review identified evidence to demonstrate the strong association between certain features of housing and wellbeing such as adequate heating and ventilation. Our findings highlight the need for strengthening of the evidence base in order for meaningful conclusions to be drawn.  

Accessibility Toolbar