Public Health and Housing: You Can’t Have One Without the Other

Partnerships that create a solid connection between housing and healthcare can offer a multitude of benefits for cities, including lower long-term healthcare costs, better educational opportunities, and employment that can help raise income levels.

The approach taken by cities like Phoenix, Arizona, of partnering with expert affordable housing developers as well as educational institutions and the medical and mental health communities offers cities a blueprint for how local officials can ensure public health is improved by focusing on housing and supportive services. (Getty Images)

For more than 20 years, the first full week of April has been designated across the country as National Public Health Week.

Notably, this year’s celebration comes on the heels of failed efforts to reform the nation’s healthcare system. While the president and Congress reassess policy options, some states have begun to reconsider whether or not to expand Medicaid.

It is well documented that housing improves outcomes related to health and education, but there is a symbiotic relationship between health and housing. Housing supports health, but in order for someone to thrive in housing, they must be connected to individualized supports that help them maintain their housing.

This understanding is a key component of the Housing First strategy that has emerged in the last 15 years as central to ending homelessness. Connections to medical, mental and dental health are not only good for individuals and families, but they are also fiscally prudent policies that lower long-term healthcare costs. In addition, individuals with stable housing and healthcare are better positioned to pursue educational opportunities and employment that can help raise income levels.

Many of the 31 states that have expanded Medicaid access have begun working in a variety of fashions to integrate Medicaid services with housing.

In California, integrating healthcare supports with housing helped the development of 69 apartments for very low- and extremely low-income seniors, veterans and homeless veterans.

With an increasingly aging community, the city of American Canyon recognized the need to partner with affordable housing developers, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and philanthropies to increase the amount of available housing with on-site services.

With support from the Home Depot Foundation, these local and federal partners joined together with Satellite Affordable Housing Associates to develop cottages with centralized parking, walking paths, recreational spaces and a community clubhouse to support wellness activities, independent living and aging-in-place.

Volunteer associates that are part of a Team Depot in Nashua, New Hampshire pack supplies to help veterans in need. (The Home Depot Foundation)

In Nashua, New Hampshire, Harbor Homes, Inc. provides low-income, homeless and disabled community members with affordable housing, primary and behavioral health care, employment and job training, and supportive services. Their holistic approach to care has consistently shown better outcomes for clients and the community. As a federally-qualified health center, Harbor Homes not only provides access to healthcare, but they have also developed and manage numerous housing sites to help connect these services to individuals and families.

Two weeks ago, at Harbor Homes, federal officials joined Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess in celebrating the city’s certification as the latest community to have met the benchmarks and criteria for achieving the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.

“We have a long tradition of service here in Nashua,” said Mayor Donchess, “and we take care of our own. Thanks to the efforts of community partners like Harbor Homes, and with the support of federal, state and local resources, we are able to celebrate this achievement. This challenge is a commitment that we have made and we will keep. It requires vigilance and dedication.”

As in California, the Home Depot Foundation has partnered with Harbor Homes and others to ensure veterans and their families have safe housing. Due to Harbor Homes being able to support veterans and others placed into housing with services and resources provided through Medicaid, investments by other partners (such as the city and the state, as well as the quarter of a billion dollars committed by the Home Depot Foundation to veteran-related causes) can be leveraged to help more individuals and families.

With Dr. Ben Carson now at the helm of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, city leaders have a secretary who has consistently talked about the importance of housing as it relates to health. In the weeks to come, local officials should ensure these connections are fully understood by Congress as the federal budget is developed.

About the author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter @HarigBlaine.