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Researchers say lender-owned foreclosures could be causing neighbors too much stress.  

That foreclosed house down the block might not be just a depressing reminder of the mortgage crisis. The fact that you live near it might also be elevating your risk of high blood pressure, according to new research.

Scientists at Harvard and elsewhere claim they've discovered the "first evidence" that proximity to foreclosed properties correlates with elevated systolic blood pressure, aka that number at the top of the BP reading. They say this after spending two decades tracking the health of 1,740 people living in Framingham, Massachusetts. These people are part of the so-called Framingham Heart Study that dates back generations to the 1940s, and can be described as mostly white, middle-class suburbanites.

To test the theory that specific kinds of foreclosures affect health differently, the scientists chose to look at both lender-owned properties – which often stay vacant – and properties that were scooped up by third-party buyers and often rehabbed or made useful again. They found that the latter had no measurable impact on blood pressure, while the former gave it a significant jolt. Specifically, there was an average increase of 1.71 mm Hg in people who lived within a 100-meter radius of a lender-owned foreclosure.

Here's the study's lead author explaining what might be behind this physiological change and why it matters:

"The increases in blood pressure observed could be due in part to unhealthy stress from residents' perception that their own properties are less valuable, their streets less attractive or safe and their neighborhoods less stable," said Mariana Arcaya, Sc.D., M.C.P., study lead author and Yerby Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies in Cambridge, Mass. "Safety could also be a concern that affects their ability to exercise in these neighborhoods."

"Healthcare providers, particularly those serving neighborhoods still recovering from the recent housing crisis, should be aware of foreclosure activity as a possible source of unhealthy stress for residents," Arcaya said.

High blood pressure is known to contribute in a big way to stroke risk and heart disease. The next step in this research might be to investigate populations that aren't so white and who live in both rural and urban area, says Arcaya, to see if the effect is widespread.

Top image: Photographee.eu / Shutterstock.com

About the Author

John Metcalfe
John Metcalfe

John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.

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