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May. 2, 2014

Enterprise Draws Link Between Housing, Health and Nutrition

By Jeffrey Steele, Contributing Writer

Columbia, Md.–At a time when food and housing expenses are climbing across the nation, Enterprise Community Partners Inc. has just unveiled innovative policy and programmatic solutions designed to improve nutrition among residents of affordable housing communities.

Financed by the Annie E. Casey foundation, the study titled Food at Home: Affordable Housing as a Platform to Overcome Nutritional Challenges was designed to spur discussion between the housing and health sectors about combating the growing challenges of food and housing security, encouraging access to healthy foods and boosting nutritious eating among residents.

“Many families who suffer from housing insecurity also suffer from food insecurity,” Andrew Jakabovics, Enterprise Community Partners senior director of policy development and research, tells MHN. “In many cases, housing and health providers are working to serve the same people. Because good nutrition and decent affordable housing are both vital components of well-being, there are opportunities for service providers to work together to reinforce important messages and expand the effectiveness of programs for resident families.”

Jakabovics notes that with rent rates soaring, low-income families are often forced to cut back on other expenditures just to keep a roof overhead. For many of them, serious nutritional consequences ensue. Children in low-income families who do not receive housing subsidies are more likely to be undernourished and less likely to be classified as “well.”

“High prices, lack of access to healthy food, minimum order sizes, and other factors create barriers to good nutrition that housing and health providers can work together to mitigate,” he says.

Housing and health providers often aren’t aware of the benefits of joining forces, or of the federal and state programs they can utilize to improve resident nutrition and combat food deserts, he adds.

For example, the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) can be used to finance grocery stores in underserved areas, bringing not just access to healthy food but also new jobs and opportunities for economic development. In addition to tax incentives, state and local initiatives like the New York Healthy Food and Healthy Communities Fund offer additional financing and promote healthy development.

“Another problem is engaging community residents,” Jakabovics says. “Gaps in outreach prevent residents from taking advantage of the opportunities available and have dangerous consequences for personal health, especially for children. [While] healthcare and education providers touch some segments of a community, housing is inherently enmeshed in the fabric of neighborhoods. Thus, housing providers can play an important role in bringing information and opportunities to a broader audience.”

Housing providers have unique access to low-income families, he reports. Their insights can be used to reinforce educational outreach and dismantle cultural and contextual barriers that prevent social institutions from providing the best support possible.

“By working with community organizations, housing providers can bring farmers markets into developments, facilitate bulk ordering to mitigate prohibitive costs, and support other initiatives that promote a culture of healthy, affordable eating in everyday life for low-income residents,” he says.

“Enterprise fundamentally believes that housing is the foundation for opportunity. And that starts with a healthy lifestyle at home.”

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