The rise in rents and mortgage costs in many parts of the country has outpaced incomes, skyrocketing the number of Americans who spend most of their income on housing and squeezing low-income people out of places they could once afford. And, though we’ve made strides in reducing homelessness, it remains an urgent problem nationwide.
The same people who face the toughest time finding an affordable place to live also encounter the most difficulty meeting their health-care needs. Nearly a quarter of people who live in poverty don’t have health insurance coverage, compared to fewer than one in 10 people who are not poor, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. And millions in the U.S.―and around the world―face toxic tradeoffs between medical care and basics like food and shelter.
These twin challenges have a deep impact on our nation’s health and well-being. To improve the well-being of all, the nation must address them together, rather than separately. There can be no good health without good housing―and so the housing and health-care sectors must partner closely to help ensure the most vulnerable have access to a stable, healthy foundation to succeed in life.
Reducing Health-Care Costs
There’s a raft of research that shows that much of what determines our mental and physical health lies outside the health-care system. Housing conditions are one of the most concrete manifestations of those forces. Safe, clean, affordable and accessible housing is vital to physical and mental health and well-being, while subpar housing conditions can contribute to physical problems like asthma, obesity and infectious diseases, and mental health issues such as depression, stress and anxiety.
In fact, a 2016 study by the Center for Outcomes Research and Education and Enterprise Community Partners found that affordable housing paired with health-care services transformed the health-care experiences of Medicaid-covered residents―increasing use of primary care services, reducing emergency department visits and lowering health-care expenditures.
Health systems and housing providers are increasingly recognizing and acting on the connection between health and housing. These actions must be brought to scale.
For example, Providence St. Joseph Health has owned and operated supportive housing programs for elderly and disabled residents. Today, the health system manages 780 homes and supports more than 950 residents in Washington, Oregon and California.
Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. has worked with Bon Secours Baltimore Health System to develop more than 800 affordable homes and support broad community revitalization efforts, including an education and youth development strategy in West Baltimore. This partnership has provided a strong foundation for Enterprise’s work to incorporate health into the DNA of affordable housing and community development.
Enterprise is also partnering with the health-care industry to explore innovative investment models that address housing or the built environment to improve health outcomes.
Research, practical application, and common sense irrefutably show the link between quality housing and good health. More than ever, our housing and health sectors must come together to build innovative solutions so that well-designed homes connected to care are affordable for low-income families, seniors, veterans, and people with special needs.
A good solution solves multiple problems. By uniting health care and housing, we will improve health outcomes for people across the country, strengthen communities, and reduce health care costs.
It’s time to invest in building healthy housing and forging a healthier future.
Tyler Norris is chief executive of Well Being Trust, an independent national foundation launched by Providence St. Joseph Health in 2016 to promote mental, social and spiritual health. Terri Ludwig is outgoing CEO of Enterprise Community Partners, Inc., a national nonprofit that strives to improve communities and people’s lives by making well-designed homes affordable and connected to education, jobs, transit and health care.