National Homelessness Conference 2018

Prof Marah Curtis

Associate Professor, School of Social Work, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Marah Curtis Marah A. Curtis, MSW, PhD Dr. Curtis earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Marymount Manhattan College, her Masters of Social Work from Hunter College, and her PhD in Social Policy, Planning and Policy Analysis from Columbia University.  Since 2012, she has been on the faculty in the School of Social Work at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where she is an Associate Professor and teaches courses on social policy and poverty.

Dr. Curtis is a training faculty member with the Center for Demography and Ecology and a faculty affiliate at the Institute for Research on Poverty. Dr. Curtis studies how differences in housing conditions and the structure of income-conditioned benefits affect family wellbeing in the United States.  She uses a variety of statistical techniques to analyze data from a range of large-scale datasets as well as collects policy data on system components missing in existing data, but pivotal in understanding the context of low-income families.  Dr. Curtis’s research focus on housing is grounded in the recognition that this essential resource is imperative in securing the health and functioning of families.  This is particularly the case for low-income urban families in the United States, who contend with relatively high unemployment rates, tight rental housing markets, aging housing stock, high rates of incarceration and complex family structures.  Understanding how these various structural and dynamic forces affect housing stability and health undergirds all of her work.  Because low-income families are more likely to experience both housing instability and poor health, all else equal, her work examines both pathways, the impact of health on housing as well as housing on health.  For example, Curtis and colleagues (2010, 2013) find that the unexpected shock of having a child in poor health challenges families’ ability to remain housed.  Further, a stronger social safety net in the form of welfare benefits, housing subsidies, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) appear to mediate these effects, suggesting the role of benefits in allowing families to weather sudden changes in income while contending with unexpectedly dire life events.  Curtis and colleagues also find that maternal depression in the first year of a child’s life is positively associated with homelessness, utility shut-offs and material hardship in models that control for prenatal mental health, housing and grandparents’ depression.  These findings suggest a role for the healthcare system in screening and service referral for post-partum mothers.  Other work finds that residential instability reduces children’s health insurance coverage (Carrol et. al, 2017), suggesting ameliorative measures in the insurance renewal process that account for high rates of mobility, particularly among low-income families.

Her work has been featured in such publications as Demography, Social Science and Medicine, the American Journal of Public Health, Housing Studies, the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, and Housing Policy Debate.  Professor Curtis’s research has been presented at conferences across the United States, Canada, Australia, and in Europe.  She has served on academic committees and in community service organizations, including the Center for Families in Madison, Wisconsin where she was on the Board of Directors.  She is a member of the Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management and the Society for Social Work & Research.

Current projects include serving as an academic partner on the Healthy Housing Initiative with colleague Geoffrey Swain, MD, MPH and Community Advocates Public Policy Institute in Milwaukee, WI.  The goal of this $1 million 5-year community impact grant, funded by the Wisconsin Public Partnership, is to improve the health and well being of low-income Wisconsinites and their families.  The project activities—building a community-driven advisory council, conducting a health impact assessment and recruiting and training tenant leadership teams—will create conditions for local, state and/or federal policymakers to improve current policies to help increase housing affordability, quality and stability.