Why is This Health Funder Is Supporting Affordable Housing in New York City?

In the past, we’ve covered some of the New York State Health Foundation’s local grantmaking related to diabetes prevention and rural areas in the state. This foundation’s funding areas have traditionally included healthcare coverage, diabetes prevention, primary care, veterans, mental health, and substance abuse. But with affordable housing such a pressing issue in the city these days, it seems that this health funder is looking beyond its usual scope of grantmaking.


NYSHealth recently awarded a $150,000 grant to Enterprise Community Partners to create a tool that can assess the health and sustainability of multifamily buildings. It’s called the Healthy Green Physical Needs Assessment tool, and it’s aimed at helping affordable housing owners and public agencies improve resident health and wellbeing. This is a New York City-focused pilot project that has enlisted the help of a 30-member advisory panel with experts from the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

“As New York builds and upgrades affordable housing, the health of residents must be a priority,” said David Sandman, president and CEO of the New York State Health Foundation. “A healthy community requires quality housing, safe streets, healthy food options, and opportunities to be physically active.”

It's not hard to understand that health and affordable housing are interconnected, and we've written about several funding efforts that focus in this nexus. In that sense, what NYSHealth is doing isnt surprising. By funding programs for improved affordable housing conditions, this funder could indirectly support health concerns like reducing emergency room visits and high asthma rates, as well as economic benefits like energy savings and lower building maintenance costs. The collaborators on this project are also planning to tackle housing issues with health implications such as pest management, improved ventilation, and moisture prevention.

And don’t forget that affordable housing upgrades have environmental benefits too. In fact, New York City is in the process of upgrading 120,000 old affordable housing apartment units that serve low-income families, which is expected to yield big gains in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Particularly in New York City and in the Bay Area of Northern California, affordable housing grantmaking really is where it’s at for many reasons like these. "Green and healthy housing" is attracting more and more funders by the year in densely populated, overpriced regions that are persistently plagued by homelessness and poverty.

So we wouldn’t be surprised to see more funders in seemingly unrelated fields jump on the affordable housing bandwagon soon if housing nonprofits can be innovative enough to attract a larger pools of potential funders. The pilot tool that NYSHealth just supported is expected to be complete by late 2017 and with this level of public-private collaboration, it could very well serve as a model for other cities to replicate down the road.