Category Archives: Housing
“Five years after the Great Recession officially came to an end, the United States has yet to fully recover from the economic devastation sparked by the collapse of an $8 trillion housing bubble and the ensuing turmoil that saw global financial systems teetering on the brink of collapse. But while the economic costs of the downturn have drawn the lion’s share of attention, the damage to our bodies could end up far surpassing the damage to our bank accounts.”
Those are the opening lines of a new special report from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), “Failing Economy, Failing Health: The Great Recession’s Toll on Body and Mind,” detailing how poverty and inequality resulting from the economic maelstrom pulled down so many—and what that will mean for public health in the long term.
“Health is a long-run thing, but the methods we use to analyze current data only estimate short-term effects,” says SV Subramanian, HSPH professor of population health and geography. “It may take awhile for the health impact of the Great Recession to kick in, but once it does, it could be dramatic.”
The data is strong on the links between employment and health—people who are unemployed, underemployed or laid off are less healthy and don’t live as long.
A 2009 study found that in the 12 months after men lost their jobs in mass layoffs, they saw their chances of dying nearly double. While over time the risk lessened it was still significant two decades later. Another study that same year found that losing a job when a business shuts its doors increases the odds of fair or poor health by 54 percent among workers with no preexisting health conditions while also increasing the risk of new health conditions by 83 percent. The stress of the situation, according to the researchers, heightens the odds of stress-related conditions such as stroke, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and psychiatric problems.
Yet another study, this one in 2010, found that about 4 in 10 Americans with heart disease or diabetes and 1 in 5 with cancer said the stress of the Great Recession made it more difficult to manage their illnesses.
What’s more complex is unearthing the pathways behind why this is the case. The HSPH article outlines some of the mechanisms by which unemployment affects health.
Place Matters is a national initiative of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., whose mission it is to improve the lives of African Americans and other people of color through policy analysis and change. The Place Matters initiative was designed to build the capacity of local leaders around the country to identify and improve social, economic and environmental conditions that shape health. Nineteen teams are working in 27 jurisdictions.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with seven Place Matters teams about their ongoing efforts. We will be showcasing their work in a series that begins today with a conversation with Brian Smedley, PHD, Vice President and Director of the Joint Center’s Health Policy Institute.
NPH: What are some initial steps that a community has to take when making changes in order to impact health?
Brian Smedley: Several things we believe are important, and these are principles that we employ in our Place Matters work. One is first and foremost to start with the very communities that are most affected by economic and political marginalization and that have suffered from disinvestment for years. These are often communities that have the leadership and sources of strength and resiliency to begin to tackle these problems. We believe that engaging with communities; identifying their key concerns; identifying the sources of strength and resiliency in the community; and finding out from the community what their vision is for a healthy and vibrant community are all important first steps for anyone engaged in this kind of work.
We also believe that there’s an important role for research to document the inequitable distribution of health risks and resources, and to show how that often correlates with patterns of residential segregation. We have worked with our Place Matters teams to produce what we call community health equity reports, where we document such issues as where people can buy healthy food; how close polluting industries are to neighborhoods and residential areas; sources of jobs; and neighborhoods that have high levels of poverty concentration.
HHS Releases Data Giving Consumers Greater Transparency on Costs of Medical Procedures
The U.S. Department of Health and Human (HHS) services has released of new, privacy-protected data on services and procedures provided to Medicare beneficiaries by physicians and other health care professionals. The new data—which includes payment and submitted charges, or bills, for those services and procedures by provider—provides consumers with more information on how physicians and other health care professionals practice medicine, according to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “This data will help fill that gap by offering insight into the Medicare portion of a physician’s practice,” she said. “The data released today afford researchers, policymakers and the public a new window into health care spending and physician practice patterns.” The release includes information for more than 880,000 distinct health care providers who collectively received $77 billion in Medicare payments in 2012, under the Medicare Part B Fee-For-Service program. Read more on access to care.
HUD Grants $1.6B to Support 7,100 Local Homeless Housing and Service Programs
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced approximately $1.6 billion in grants to continue support for 7,100 local homeless housing and service programs in all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The grants, which come through HUD’s Continuum of Care Program, support programs such as street outreach; client assessment; and direct housing assistance to individuals and families with children who are experiencing homelessness. "Whether it's helping to rapidly re-house families with young children or finding a permanent home for an individual with serious health conditions, HUD is working with our local partners to end homelessness as we know it," said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. Read more on housing.
Study: Concussion Symptoms May Be Worse For Girls than for Boys
Concussions may have a more severe and longer-lasting effect for girls than they do for boys, according to new research. Shayne Fehr, MD, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, tracked 549 patients who sought treatment at a pediatric concussion clinic, finding that girls on average reported more severe symptoms than boys and needed an additional 22 days to recover (56 days for girls, compared to 34 for boys). Approximately 76 percent of the injuries were sports related and the top five reported symptoms were headache, trouble concentrating, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to sound and dizziness. More research is needed to determine the cause of the disparity. Read more on injury prevention.
A Hospital Helps Revitalize the Community Outside Its Walls: Q&A with George Kleb and Christine Madigan
Over the last few months, NewPublicHealth has reported on initiatives of the participating members of Stakeholder Health, formerly known as the Health Systems Learning Group. Stakeholder Health is a learning collaborative made up of more than 40 organizations, including 36 non-profit health systems that share innovative practices aimed at improving health and economic viability of communities.
>>Read more on the Stakeholder Health effort to leverage health care systems to improve community health.
One Stakeholder Health member is the Bon Secours Baltimore Health System in Maryland, whose Community Works initiative helps improve the lives of the people in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. Bon Secours Baltimore is part of a national health system founded by the Sisters of the Order of Bon Secours.
Bon Secours engaged the community before embarking on projects and have created programs aimed at improving the community’s health through services that include the hospital, community clinics and visiting nurse programs, as well as housing, GED and financial literacy programs and revitalization programs.
The ambitious housing program will ultimately provide more than 1,000 units of affordable housing in the streets just around the hospital.
Bon Secours’ partner in its housing program is Enterprise Community Partners Inc., which builds affordable housing throughout the United States. NewPublicHealth recently visited the Bon Secours housing and services sites in Baltimore and spoke with George Kleb, executive director Bon Secours Health System, and Christine Madigan, senior vice president of development at Enterprise Homes.
NewPublicHealth: When did the housing program begin?
George Kleb: Bon Secours here in Baltimore has been developing and operating housing since 1988. We started by developing a couple of senior buildings through a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program. Both buildings had been schools that were part of the surplus capacity in Baltimore. The HUD program serves people who are elderly, disabled, or very low income. There was a clear need and so we pursued that, and that was the start of our reach into housing. Then in the ‘90s we began work on housing really in line with a neighborhood revitalization strategy attached to our presence in the neighborhood of Southwest Baltimore. There was an area of West Baltimore Street, which is the street the hospital is on, that had become largely vacant. Two-thirds of the units in the three blocks leading up to the hospital were empty and we acquired 31 of those buildings and started a project we now call Bon Secours Apartments. We renovated three-story Victorian row homes into affordable apartments, and that’s when we started working with Enterprise. That’s a relationship that goes back to the mid-1990s.
Study: School Hearing Tests Cannot Detect Adolescent High-Frequency Hearing Loss
School-administered hearing tests cannot detect the sort of adolescent high-frequency hearing loss associated with exposure to loud noises, according to a new study in the Journal of Medical Screening. Researchers at Penn State College of Medicine compared the results for 282 11th graders of a special hearing screening designed to detect noise-related high-frequency hearing loss with the results of the standard Pennsylvania school hearing test. Each tests for the ability to hear a tone at a specific loudness. "More participants failed the initial screening than we predicted," said study author Deepa Sekhar, assistant professor of pediatrics, in a release, "Even with the effort and care put in by school nurses across the state, the current Pennsylvania school screen just isn't designed to detect high-frequency hearing loss in adolescents," adding "The results of this study have the potential to reach schools across the nation, as many use screens similar to those used in Pennsylvania schools." Read more on pediatrics.
HUD Gives $1.8B to Support 3,100 Public Housing Authorities
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has awarded almost $1.8 billion to approximately 3,100 public housing authorities across all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The grants, which come through HUD’s Capital Fund Program, will go toward building, repairing, renovating and modernizing public housing, from large scale improvements such as replacing roofs or smaller tasks such as energy-efficient upgrades. “This funding is critically important to public housing agencies as they work to provide the best housing possible for their residents,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. There are 1.1 million public housing units in the United States. Read more on housing.
New Heart Health Guidelines Would Increase Adults Eligible for Statins to 12.8M
New guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association (ACC–AHA) for the treatment of cholesterol would increase the number of adults who would be eligible for statin therapy by 12.8 million, according to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Roughly half of the U.S. population between 40 and 75 years of age—or 56 million people—would be eligible. Most of the increase would be among older adults without cardiovascular disease. Read more on heart health.
Facebook Makes Changes to Combat Illegal Gun Sales
Facing mounting pressure from groups such as Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Mons Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Facebook yesterday announced plans to remove offers to sell guns without background checks or across state lines. The social media site will being notifying users offering such sales of relevant laws a limit visibility of certain firearm-related posts to users ages 18 and older. Searchers for firearms on Facebook-owned Instagram will also return information on gun laws. The system will rely on users to report violating posts. "We will respond to posts that signal attempts to evade the law so we can delete them," said an AOL spokesman, according to The Wall Street Journal. Read more on violence.
Revamped SAT Designed to Increase Access to College
After only nine years using the “new” format, the College Board has announced changes to the SAT designed to focus the test more on important academic skills and increase access to college. In addition to making the essay section optional—which will put a perfect score back at 1600, from the 2400 of the past few years—the revised test will remove the penalty for incorrect answers or guessing and cut the more obscure vocabulary words. College Board President David Coleman said the changes were needed because the test had “become disconnected from the work of our high schools.” Coleman also announced fee waivers to low-income students who will now be able to apply to four colleges at no charge, according to The New York Times. Read more on education.
HUD Announces Funding to Provide Permanent Housing and Services to Low-Income People with Disabilities
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) today announced the availability of approximately $120 million in funding for state housing agencies to provide long term project-based rental assistance to extremely low-income persons with disabilities, many of whom are transitioning out of institutional settings or are at high risk of homelessness. State housing agencies will be working with state Medicaid and Health and Human Service offices to identify, refer and conduct outreach to persons with disabilities who require long-term services and supports to live independently. Read more on housing.
NIH: 10 Percent of Driving Time Spent Distracted by Secondary Tasks
About 10 percent of an average driver’s time behind the wheel is spent engaged in something besides focusing on the road, which is especially dangerous for younger drivers, according to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Common distractions include eating, reaching for a phone, texting, or simply taking their eyes off the road. Researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Virginia Tech used video technology and in-vehicle sensors to determine their findings. “Anything that takes a driver’s eyes off the road can be dangerous,” said study co-author Bruce Simons-Morton, EdD, MPH, of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the NIH institute where the study was conducted. “But our study shows these distracting practices are especially risky for novice drivers, who haven’t developed sound safety judgment behind the wheel.” The study found that novice drivers were:
- Eight times more likely to crash or have a near miss when dialing
- Seven to eight times more likely to crash or have a near miss when reaching for a phone or other object,
- Almost four times more likely to crash or have a near miss when texting, and
- Three times more likely to crash or have a near miss when eating.
Read more on transportation.
Study: Tripling Global Tobacco Taxes Could Prevent 200M Premature Deaths
Tripling the taxes on tobacco could prevent 200 million premature deaths worldwide while dramatically cutting into the total number of smokers, according to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Approximately 1.3 billion people smoke; tobacco currently kills about 6 million people per year, with that total expected to climb to more than 8 million by 2030, according to the World Health Organization. To support their findings, scientists from Cancer Research UK (CRUK) pointed to success in France, where raising taxes well above inflation reduced smoking by half from 1990 to 2005. "The two certainties in life are death and taxes. We want higher tobacco taxes and fewer tobacco deaths," said Richard Peto, the CRUK epidemiologist who led the study. "It would help children not to start, and it would help many adults to stop while there's still time." Read more on tobacco.
HUD Grants to Help Families Get Access to Education, Job Training, Employment
This week the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded approximately $57 million in grants as part of its Housing Choice Voucher Program, which will go toward helping residents gain access to education, job training and employment. The grants will be used to hire or retain more than one thousand service coordinators who will work to connect the families with the supportive services. “This is a modest investment that can make a world of difference for families looking to find their path to self-sufficiency,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “As America’s economy continues to recover, it’s critical that we work to make sure every American has the skills and resources they need to successfully compete for jobs in the 21st Century.” Under the program, participants sign a five-year contract requiring the head of the household to obtain employment and no longer receive welfare assistance by the end of the contract. Read more on housing.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently posted an interview with Teresa Bainton, director of the New York Multifamily HUB, which manages multifamily housing programs in the Northeast. Bainton’s job puts her in constant contact with families, veterans, seniors, developers, elected officials and building owners and managers. Bainton says the work, though so rewarding, is especially challenging in the Northeast, where housing prices are often higher than average costs for the rest of the United States.
>>Read the full interview.
A new survey from the U.S. Conference of Mayors released earlier this month found that in many U.S. cities homelessness increased by as much as 4 percent this year. The permanent solution to homelessness will require the concerted efforts of companies, communities, legislatures and individuals and includes affordable housing, jobs and economic policies and strong mental health support. That’s a lot to tackle, but there are some things individuals can do to make life a bit easier — and healthier — for homeless people in their communities.
Here are a few suggestions from online charitable giving site justGive.org, which has a full list of 35 ideas on its site:
- Buy Street Sheet or Street Sense: These biweekly newspapers are sold in almost every major American city and are intended to help the homeless help themselves by offering them economic opportunities and elevating their voices in the discussion on how to end homelessness. For every paper sold, the participants earn five cents deposited in a special savings account earmarked for rent.
- Bring food: When you pass someone who asks for change, offer him or her something to eat. If you take a lunch, pack a little extra. When you eat at a restaurant, order something to take with you when you leave.
- Give recyclables: In localities where there is a "bottle law," collecting recyclable cans and bottles is often a viable source of income for homeless people. It is an honest job that requires initiative. You can help by saving your recyclable bottles, cans, and newspapers and giving them to homeless people instead of taking them to a recycling center or leaving them out for collection (or, worse, not recycling at all!).
- Volunteer your professional services: No matter what you do for a living, you can help the homeless with your on-the-job talents and skills. Those with clerical skills can train those with little skills. Doctors, psychiatrists, counselors, and dentists can treat the homeless in clinics. Lawyers can help with legal concerns. The homeless' needs are bountiful — your time and talent won't be wasted. There are many different volunteer organizations through which you can channel your efforts.
- Volunteer for follow-up programs: Some homeless people, particularly those who have been on the street for a while, may need help with fundamental tasks such as paying bills, balancing a household budget, or cleaning. Follow-up programs to give the formerly homeless further advice, counseling, and other services — and are always in need of volunteers.
- Create lists of needed donations: Call all the organizations in your community that aid the homeless and ask them what supplies they need on a regular basis. Make a list for each organization, along with its address, telephone number, and the name of a contact person. Then mail these lists to community organizations that may wish to help with donations —from religious centers to children's organizations such as Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.
- Help the homeless apply for aid - Governmental aid is available for homeless people, but many may not know where to find it or how to apply. Since they don't have a mailing address, governmental agencies may not be able to reach them. You can help by directing the homeless to intermediaries, such as homeless organizations, that let them know what aid is available and help them to apply for it. If you want to be an advocate or intermediary for the homeless yourself, you can contact these organizations as well.
- Read the full list of suggestions to help the homeless from justgive.org
- Read a NewPublicHealth post on the recent U.S. Conference of Mayors report on hunger and homelessness.
HUD to Grant Millions in Rental Assistance for Senior Housing Developments
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced $14.8 million to preserve affordable rental assistance for elderly tenants living in subsidized properties. This funding is provided through HUD’s Senior Preservation Rental Assistance Contracts and is targeted for properties in HUD’s “Supportive Housing for the Elderly” program, where rental assistance may expire without the new funding. Read more on aging.
U.S. Forest Service Will Waive Some Recreation Fees Five Times in 2014
The U.S. Forest Service will waive fees at most of its day-use recreation sites on: Jan. 20, 2014, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day; President's Day weekend Feb. 15-17; National Get Outdoors Day on June 14; National Public Lands Day on Sept. 27; and Veterans Day weekend from Nov. 8 to 11.
Get Outdoors Days helps to raise awareness that nature encourages healthy, active outdoor fun. In addition to waiving fees, various Forest Service units participate in a variety of public events on agency lands and in nearby cities and towns. Public Lands Day is the nation's largest, single-day volunteer effort in support of public lands. Agency units plan their own events, which range from educational programs to trash pick-up to building trails.
National forests and grasslands include more than 150,000 miles of trails, which include hiking, biking, equestrian and motorized trails, and more than 10,000 developed recreation sites, as well as 57,000 miles of streams, 122 alpine ski areas, 338,000 heritage sites, 9,100 miles of National Scenic Byways, 22 National Recreation Areas, 11 National Scenic Areas, seven National Monuments, one national preserve and one national heritage area.
Many sites are already free; fees that could be waived under the program include picnic grounds and admission to visitor centers. Read more on physical activity.
Healthier Holiday Ideas from the USDA
As its holiday gift, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers some healthy tweaks for consumers to help make holiday celebrations healthier including ideas for lighter cocktail fare, lower sugar and lower fat recipes for baked goods, and gift-giving ideas that focus on physical activity. Read more on obesity.