Mental health and houses in multiple occupation

Published date15 June 2015
Date15 June 2015
AuthorCaroline Barratt,Gillian Green,Ewen Speed
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Mental health,Public mental health
Mental health and houses in multiple
Caroline Barratt, Gillian Green and Ewen Speed
Caroline Barratt is Lecturer,
Gillian Green is Director of
Research and Ewen Speed is
Senior Lecturer, all at the
School of Health and Human
Sciences, University of Essex,
Colchester, UK.
Purpose Previous research has established that there is a relationshipbetween housing and mental health,
however, understanding about how and why housing affects mental health is still limited. The purpose
of this paper is to address this deficit by focusing on the experiences of residents of houses in multiple
occupation (HMOs).
Design/methodology/approach Semi-structured interviews were carried out with 20 HMO residents
who were asked about their housing career and experience of living in a HMO. Participants were recruited
with assistance from community organisations and landlords.
Findings The physical properties and social environment of the property, as well as personal
circumstances experienced prior to the move into the property, all influenced how mental health was
affected. The authors identify and discuss in detail three key meditating factors: safety, control and identity
which may affect how living in the property impacts the mental health of tenants.
Practical implications Good property management can lessen the potential harmful effects of living in a
HMO. However, poorly run properties which house numerous vulnerable people may increase the risk of
poor mental health due to attendant high levels of stress and possible risk of abuse.
Originality/value Based on the reports of HMO residents, the authors outline the key mediating processes
through which living in HMOs may affect mental wellbeing, as well as illuminating the potential risks and
benefits of HMOs, an overlooked tenure in housing research.
Keywords Housing, Mental health, Houses in multiple occupation, Seaside town
Paper type Research paper
There is a growing body of evidence that housing has an impact on mental health. Housing
quality (Pevalin et al., 2008; Kearns et al., 2011; Barnes et al., 2013), housing tenure and
housing affordability (Baker et al., 2012; Kearns et al., 2000; Scottish Government Communities
Analytical Services, 2010) have all been shown to affect mental health. However, despite growing
evidence for a relationship between mental health and housing there has been a lack of
discussion about how housing affects mental health (Evans et al., 2003) and the difficulty
of separating the influence of housing on mental health as distinct from other social and
environmental factors has been recognised (Taske et al., 2005).
Our research focuses specifically on houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) in a seaside town in
south-east England. Although the precise definition of a HMO is complex we use the standard
testas outlined inthe Housing Act (Great BritainHousing Act, 2004) a property is considered an
HMO when it is occupied byindividuals who do not make up a single household and who share
basic amenities.For the purposes of HMO regulation, the localDistrict Council defined a HMOas a
property let asa main or only home to at least three tenants,who form more than one household
and who sharea kitchen,bathroom or toilet(TendringDistrict Council, 2013) whichis the definition
we apply here. In the UK, the individual accommodation is informally known as a bedsit.
Received 19 November 2013
Revised 26 June 2014
Accepted 26 July 2014
This project was funded by the
Technology Strategy Board for a
Knowledge Transfer Partnership
(No KTP007755) between
University of Essex and Tendring
District Council. They provided
matched funding to Tendring
District Council who provided the
initial impetus for this project. Many
people at Tendring District Council
assisted with this project notably
Chris Kitcher who had the initial
idea and who led the setup of this
project and Paul Price who took
over half way through. Grant
Fenton-Jones and David
McCulloch also provided
assistance. Jan Stringer and Jenny
Young at the University of Essex
sat on the project management
group and helped to guide the
project. Several local service
providers helped with the
recruitment of interviewees and the
authors are very grateful for their
help. The biggest thank you goes
to those who agreed to be
interviewed as without their
cooperation this research would
not have been possible.
DOI 10.1108/JPMH-11-2013-0070 VOL. 14 NO. 2 2015, pp. 107-117, © Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 1746-5729
PAG E 1 0 7

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