We've written few times about how funders are looking for ways to preserve affordable housing in gentryifing neighborhoods in an era of urban renewal. We've also written a bunch about funders looking at the social and economic determinants of health. So, naturally, we're interested in funding efforts that directly address the nexus between affordable housing and public health.
Last month, ChangeLab Solutions published a guide, Preserving, Protecting, and Expanding Affordable Housing: A Policy Toolkit for Public Health to help community advocates and public health practitioners to maintain and even expand the number of affordable rental units in popular city neighborhoods. A grant from the Kresge Foundation made that publication possible.
What's the link between housing and health? It's bigger than you might think. According to research by MB Kushel et al. in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, families that have trouble paying for housing are 84 percent more likely to report that they have delayed needed medical care and 116 percent more likely to report having put off purchasing necessary medication. More than 75 percent of people facing housing insecurity also reported food insecurity. According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, 35.3 percent of U.S. Households spent more than 30 percent of their income on rent in 2012 (up from 29.6 percent in 2001) while one in five households spends more than half its income on housing. Of course, living in poor housing can expose residents to various toxins and dangers, including lead poisoning—not to mention the external pollutants that often lurk in the marginal neighborhoods where people may end up living when they're pushed out of better neighborhoods. Finally, being cut off from social networks because of displacement is not good for one's health, either.
Kresge is interested in looking upstream at social and economic factors in its work to promote better population health, as we've reported, and it's long been focused on the housing piece. Over five years ago, it was one of the funders that convened a National Healthy Housing Policy Summit and later helped form the National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition that laid out an ambitious, cross-sector agenda for working this nexus. (See more here.) In 2013, Kresge unveiled a $100 million investment fund in concert with other partners to "expand access to health care and affordable housing for low-income residents and fund critical social services that help link the two in impoverished neighborhoods." It's also made a number of grants in this area, and promoting "Healthy Housing and Neighborhoods" is a key part of its larger strategy of promoting "Healthy Places."
The other funders Kresge has worked with on this nexus include the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which recently mentioned housing as one of the health factors it wants to understand better in recently unveiling a $25 million research initiative to advance a culture of health, as we wrote recently.
The ChangeLab report focuses on six areas in which public policy can augment the stock of affordable public housing through preservation, protection, inclusion, revenue generation, incentives and property acquisition. It also highlights the role that public health agencies can play.
“Because of the strong link between health and housing, we hope more and more professionals from the respective specialties will collaborate,” David Fukuzawa, managing director of Kresge’s Health Program, said. “This is a body of work that we hope supports that and ultimately helps people of modest means gain a toehold to better lives.”