“In tackling serious health disparities, we need to confront their contributing causes, such as how much a person earns, the community she lives in and her housing situation. Housing is an important social determinant of health. Social determinants of health are economic and social factors that influence a person’s physical and mental health. There is a limit to how much health care providers can impact the health and wellbeing of patients from inside the walls of doctors’ offices and hospitals, which is why the health care sector is increasingly focusing on addressing social determinants of health. On Oct. 20 I had the privilege to speak on a panel on the intersection of public housing and public health at the George Washington University Rodham Institute Summit. The Rodham Institute is dedicated to promoting health equity in Washington, D.C., and the panel’s focus on the intersection of housing and health fits well with the institute’s mission. The panel was composed of other affordable housing and public health researchers and practitioners and provided an opportunity to inform attendees about how our work is intertwined.
During the panel discussion, we explored how housing influences the physical and mental health of households in various ways. If households are spending more than they can afford on housing, they are less likely to buy healthy food, access health care and fill prescriptions. If a household can’t afford its housing, it may move frequently or become homeless, which exposes family members’ physical and mental health to serious harm. Poor-quality housing can actually make people sick from exposure to lead and other environmental hazards like mold and pest infestation. The neighborhood where a person lives is also important. Living in a place that is not safe for kids to play outside, not walkable and lacking grocery stores can make it difficult to be physically active and create severe stress.
It is important for this conversation to continue and for housing and health practitioners and advocates to come together at events like the Rodham Institute Summit, learn more about their overlapping interests and begin to work together to address inequities. On December 13, NHC will host the How Housing Matters Conference, an event focused on how housing is an element of cross-sector efforts to improve health, education and economic outcomes for low-income households. At How Housing Matters, we will resume the conversation about how health and housing practitioners can collaborate to promote health equity.
In 2017, to build upon our previous work, NHC looks forward to exploring the connection between housing and health with practitioners and thought leaders from both sectors through a new Housing and Health Working Group. This working group will examine issues of common interest for the housing and health sectors and develop and share ideas for cross-collaboration to meet key challenges in our communities. We also plan to lift up innovative work at the intersection of housing and health in order to support continued efforts to use housing to support health and wellbeing.
I hope to see you at How Housing Matters on Dec. 14 and to further connect with NHC members on work that moves housing and health forward together.