Thursday, July 2, 2015

Affordable housing is much more than a roof

Solutions through research
by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference and the Center for Housing Policy

Affordable housing is health care. Research is continually deepening our understanding of the critical role of safe, affordable and quality housing in supporting good health for people of all ages. People’s need for housing goes beyond just shelter. Having a stable, safe and affordable place to live means that households have greater resources to access health care, less exposure to toxins that cause illness and lower levels of stress associated with being unable to afford housing or facing homelessness.  

At NHC’s Policy Symposium on June 12, Dr. Megan Sandel, a physician and researcher with Children’s HealthWatch, spoke about the lasting harmful effects that homelessness has on children. Her research team found that children’s health is negatively impacted by being homeless before they are even born. As a physician, she wishes she “could write a prescription for housing” in order to treat many housing related illnesses such as severe asthma. She encouraged affordable housing organizations to identify and approach community hospitals and other health care institutions to begin working together to use affordable housing to improve the health of community members.  

As the federal government and states explore ways to contain health care spending through improving health instead of just treating illness, there are new opportunities for housing providers to work with the health sector to improve the wellbeing of low-income families and individuals. NHC’s recent paper, Affordable Housing’s Place in Health Care, explores some of these new options for collaboration between housing providers and health care organizations. The affordable housing community must begin engaging the health community in order to access new, or leverage existing, sources of funding for affordable housing and supportive services.  

Many organizations are already forming innovative partnerships and housing developments. Look for NHC’s three profiles of promising affordable housing and health collaborations which will be released later this week. The profiles feature:
  • NHC member Volunteers of America’s new affordable and supportive housing development in New York City.
  • Hennepin County, Minn.’s Accountable Care Organization, integrating health care with social services and housing navigation assistance.
  • Georgia’s Healthy Housing and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, which uses Medicaid and other funds to test blood lead levels in children and conduct home risk assessments for lead exposure and other home hazards.

These programs and housing development are new and still evolving. They offer examples for how affordable housing organizations can think about ways to better serve their low-income residents by working with health care organizations to use housing to support good health. 

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