Another Funding Effort on the Link Between Housing and Health, This Time in Oregon

Throughout the United States, we’ve seen a growing trend to connect health challenges and housing pressures. With more research linking affordable housing with a range of public health and social problems, an impressively diverse collection of public, private, nonprofit, and philanthropic interests have been focusing on this intersection. We've reported often on health funders at both the national and state levels addressing health and housing, but it's also notable how more for-profit health companies are directly funding affordable, supportive housing development.

The housing crunch affects cities most often and most egregiously. And while it isn’t the largest city in the west, Portland, Oregon, has its share of challenges. Housing costs remain lower than in Seattle or the big California cities, but they’re rising as downtown lifestyles gain nationwide cachet. And like its larger West Coast brethren, Portland struggles to provide for the many homeless people lining its streets.

To the rescue comes a new $21.5 million partnership calling itself Housing Is Health. Managed by Central City Concern, a Portland nonprofit serving homeless and vulnerable people, the initiative brings together money from six prominent health organizations. The plan is to construct and maintain 382 affordable supportive housing units. They include the Eastside Health Center: supportive housing with a built-in mental and physical clinic, “workforce housing” for individuals and small families, and a development designed specifically with families in mind.

Aside from their health focus, the six funders come from very different places. Two are religious: Adventist Health ($1.5 million), and Providence Health ($4 million). One is academic—the Oregon Health & Science University ($4 million). Two are major local nonprofits—Legacy Health ($4 million) and CareOregon ($4 million). And one is a private healthcare giant—Kaiser Permanente ($4 million).

What's missing from this mix are traditional foundations, but the fact that money private and nonprofit funding is flowing anyway gives you a sense of the range of players in housing/health space. 

Some readers might say, sure, $21.5 million is a lot, but wouldn’t the budget for all that development be a little higher? They’d be right. The total Housing Is Health budget amounts to $57.8 million, with the vast majority of the health funders’ money going to the Eastside Health Center. Making up the difference are Central City Concern (“through tax credits, loans, and private fundraising”) and the Portland Housing Bureau.

With any “silo-busting” campaign pulling together the sectors, motivations can vary. Pure altruism gets intermixed with health insurers’ interest in keeping down costs by addressing the housing issues underlying some health problems. It can be a happy equation when the private sector profits in the long-term by funding long-term public health fixes (assuming they’re big enough and they work). Major insurance-related concerns like United Healthcare, the Health Net Foundation, and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation have all recently backed new affordable housing.

In Oregon, Housing Is Health builds on prior work like last year’s Housing With Services project, a campaign to extend preventative health care to vulnerable residents of subsidized housing. The Weinberg Foundation was a major backer there, and Providence Health also contributed.

Check out some of the links below to see what other funders are doing to address the nexus between affordable housing and health.