Food or Shelter? An Introduction to Understanding the Connections between Housing and Food Insecurity

By Kirwan Researchers: Kierra S. Barnett, Glennon Sweeney, and Mikyung Baek for The BLOCK Project

Kevin and Michelle are a young married couple with two small children living in Columbus, OH. Both work full-time, and earn a combined yearly income of $45,000. A few years ago, they bought a small house in order to move out of the increasingly steep rental market and give their kids a stable and safe home. Their house is located in an up and coming neighborhood with low crimes rates and above average schools.

Kevin and Michelle are happy with their living situation, but they, like so many families, are struggling to make ends meet. They spend 40% ($18,000) of their combined income on their mortgage — ten percent more than the recommended 30% that families spend on housing expenses. They sit enough above the federal poverty line for a family of their size that they do not qualify to receive any government assistance, yet they are forced to make tough tradeoffs that compromise their family’s health.

Families with depleted financial resources face a tough decision: do I provide my family with a safe and adequate home or do I provide them with healthy food?

As parents, Kevin and Michelle want what is best for their children. They try to buy healthy food for their family, but they only have one car and the closest grocery store is nearly two miles away. If Michelle needs food or other household goods while Kevin is at work, she has to shop at the corner store where items are often more expensive. When sales are not available in their local grocery store, buying nutritious foods puts a heavy strain on their tight budget. Periodically throughout the year, Kevin and Michelle must skip their own meals to afford diapers and baby formula for their infant son.

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The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity was established in 2003 as a center for interdisciplinary research at The Ohio State University. The Kirwan Institute works to create a just and inclusive society where all people and communities have opportunity to succeed.