Housing policy and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic: A pilot project and stakeholder engagement to build pandemic resilience

Alex Hoagland, Dalla Lana School of Public Health; Sara Allin, Dalla Lana School of Public Health; Alan Walks, University of Toronto Mississauga; David Rudoler, Dalla Lana School of Public Health

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the extent to which a person could effectively follow public health guidelines was contingent upon suitable housing.¹ Large periods of the pandemic necessitated increased time at home and, as such, any harmful pre-existing physical or social conditions of the house exacerbated poor mental health outcomes of its inhabitants.²𝄒³ In response to the economic and social instability during the pandemic, states implemented new social protections, including those targeting housing. Housing-specific interventions such as eviction moratoria in the US were able to curb severe mental distress associated with eviction,⁴𝄒⁵ while also reducing COVID-19 incidence and mortality that would be exacerbated by more evictions and doubling-up.⁶𝄒⁷𝄒⁸ However, it is unclear the extent to which housing policies in Canada considered mental health or what their impact was. As such, this project seeks to address the question: what can we learn from the variations in housing decisions made across Canada’s provinces during the COVID-19 pandemic to mitigate mental health crises of future pandemics? To answer this, a three-pronged approach including an initial exploration of pandemic-era housing policies in two provinces, formation of stakeholders in the housing sector to guide our research and reporting of results, and construction of a dataset to assess impacts of housing policy decisions on mental health and financial security. In this way, the project will allow for the intersection of housing, health, and resilience to be documented and used to suggest policy directions to improve readiness for future pandemics.