Connecting the Dots between Housing and Health

    • June 13, 2012

It’s easy to see how housing conditions – the presence of lead, radon, water leaks, poor ventilation, pollution or mold – are linked to poor health. But research also shows that even where you live can affect both how healthy you are and how long you can expect to live.

Growing recognition of the importance that housing, neighborhoods and factors such as income and education have on health has led the health sector, and increasingly the housing and community development sectors, to look beyond improving access to health care to address what can help people avoid getting sick in the first place. In fact, many of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s most recent investments in this area have involved collaboration between partners in the housing, urban planning, community development and finance sectors. These successful and diverse collaborations include the following:

  • In New York City, we funded housing integrated with medical and social services for high-risk families through the Corporation for Supportive Housing. Working with several city agencies and other nonprofits, Keeping Families Together (KFT) provided 29 units of permanent, affordable housing to homeless families, coupled with supportive services such as counseling, job, parenting and life skills training, and mental health and substance abuse recovery support. Based on the success of this project, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF), RWJF and three other foundations are now supporting a $35 million initiative to demonstrate how supportive housing can stabilize highly vulnerable families and keep children out of the foster care system.
  • In Minneapolis, The NetWork for Better Futures provides high-risk men, including ex-offenders, with access to housing and wrap-around services like job training, primary care and social services. The NetWork's "housing first" approach offers structure and stability to transform from a "client" totally dependent on public benefits to a worker who earns a wage, pays taxes and child support and is no longer chronically dependent on public assistance.
  • RWJF created The Green House model, a new kind of nursing home comprised of small 10-bedroom homes. By altering the facility size, interior design, staffing patterns and methods of delivering services to residents, the approach is directly linked to better health outcomes. The 100th home opened last year in West Orange, NJ, and the model continues to be replicated across the country.
  • We're supporting projects like Living Cities’ Integration Initiative, which is providing $85 million to support public-private partnerships in Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Newark and Minneapolis-St. Paul to improve access to healthy foods and employment opportunities, to create walkable communities served by public transit, and to preserve and create affordable housing.
  • In Louisville, the RWJF-funded Active Living by Design supported the design of Liberty Green, a $200 million, mixed-income community with pocket parks, walkable streets and houses with front porches. ACTIVE Louisville, along with the Louisville Metro Housing Authority and other community partners, assessed housing needs and helped with relocation, while providing a comprehensive array of social services and programs to help residents move towards self-sufficiency.
  • The Foundation’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities program is helping dozens of communities across the country reshape their environments to support healthy living and prevent childhood obesity.
  • We’ve also been working closely with the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the Low Income Investment Fund and others to support a series of “Healthy Communities” meetings that bring together the health, community development and finance sectors to identify common goals, share information about cross-cutting work and forge new relationships.
  • The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program, a collaboration between RWJF and the University of Wisconsin Public Health Institute, is focused on identifying and addressing specific factors that affect health, such as education and income. The County Health Rankings are an annual check-up that highlights the healthiest and least healthy counties in every state, as well as those factors that influence health, outside of the doctor’s office, and the County Health Roadmaps help counties to mobilize and take action to become healthier places.
  • The Health Impact Project, a collaboration between RWJF and The Pew Charitable Trusts, promotes the use of health impact assessments, tools that can help decision-makers identify and avoid unintended health consequences of a policy or project, such as a proposed transit line that runs through low-income neighborhoods.

Stay tuned for updates on our efforts to create healthier places and conditions for people to live, learn, work and play.