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Improving social outcomes through housing and health

Having finished my masters in public health last year at the University of Missouri, I have been fascinated with the proposition that all policies can affect a person’s health. I was given the opportunity to work with the National Housing Conference this semester as a research intern, allowing me to investigate some of the ways in which health intersects with housing and housing affordability.

As nonprofit organizations increasingly seek to escape their silos to work with other sectors, new connections are being made to improve the wellbeing of populations, particularly for housing and health. Since the 1800s, social scientists have intuited the link between housing conditions and health. Today, the theory is better understood as a social determinant of health. Social determinants of health refer to the conditions in which people live and work, and how those conditions shape health in addition to factors like personal behavior and genetics.
Beyond basic housing standards, recent research has made clear that access to adequate housing, neighborhood characteristics and stress from unaffordable housing all impact the mental and physical health of residents. More information on the most recent research can be found here in NHC’s new report, The Impacts of Affordable Housing on Health: A Research Summary.
The healthcare field has also become attuned to the health benefits and cost savings of incorporating social determinants of health into patient care. To encourage more holistic patient care, the Affordable Care Act has introduced new changes, including increased funding to community and home services to divert individuals from healthcare institutions and back into communities. Nonprofit hospitals are now also required to complete Community Health Assessments for the areas in which they serve, with many hospitals releasing summaries of housing affordability. Newly formed Accountable Care Organizations are comprised of hospitals and providers coordinating care for patients, and are attempting to bring down costs and improve quality of care by working with community organizations. Housers should present themselves as strategic partners to these new healthcare organizations in order to develop relationships and potentially yield future collaborative opportunities. More information can be found in our upcoming paper on the Affordable Care Act, which will be released later this spring.
Housers can also take the lead in developing collaborative opportunities with health and community organizations. One such avenue is the usage of health impact studies. As previously detailed in Shelterforce, by evaluating health outcomes from a proposed community development change, housers can invite public health officials and the community to participate in the early stages of housing planning to incorporate suggestions from across fields. Factors like walkability, availability of transportation and businesses are emphasized in both the housing and health sectors, and collaborating with hospitals and community health organizations may create a coalition of organizations eligible for additional projects and funding.
With practitioners in public health and affordable housing both seeking to improve social outcomes, merging the efforts of both can help pool the resources and expertise to create communities that are healthy and safe at home.
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