Project updates, commentaries, events and news about health across the nation from the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps team.

How Can We Lift Up the Connection Between Housing and Health?

Friday, August 2, 2019
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While living in Pittsburgh in the 1960s, Dorothy Richardson recognized the impact housing and community development have on health. Richardson, a Black homemaker, lived in a neighborhood experiencing disinvestment and decline, at least partially due to policies like redlining. At the time, many cities like Pittsburgh thought urban renewal—or the complete demolishing of neighborhoods like Richardson’s—was the answer to solving urban blight. Richardson realized that through getting residents involved, securing financial investments, and building partnerships with organizations from many sectors—business, nonprofit, banks, and more—housing in her neighborhood would be improved and the neighborhood would be stabilized. Eventually, out of Richardson’s vision and efforts in Pittsburgh, a network of resident-led organizations focused on ground-up solutions for struggling communities was born – today known as NeighborWorks America.

For over 40 years, NeighborWorks America has worked to create opportunities for people to live in affordable homes, improve their lives, and strengthen their communities. During that time, they have worked to assist over 360,000 families with accessing affordable housing, have owned and/or managed more than 154,000 rental homes, and since 2008, have counseled over 2.1 million customers through the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling program. With 250 member organizations spanning all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, NeighborWorks and its network members have nationally expanded recognition of the interconnectedness of housing and all facets of community.

Housing and its impact on health has been a central tenant of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps model of population health. As one of the health factors that contributes to a healthy physical environment, the choices available to us for our housing, and the opportunities underlying those choices, affect our health. In the 2019 County Health Rankings, communities can explore measures and strategies on how to address severe housing cost burden—which occurs when households spend more than half of what they earn on housing costs. The 2019 County Health Rankings Key Findings Report took a closer a look at housing affordability and emphasized the strong and growing evidence that our homes are linked to our health. The report explored housing affordability across the nation, housing cost burden and community conditions, insecure housing and homelessness, and health and housing in counties of long-standing segregation. The report provided a call-to-action for residents, changemakers, and local and national leaders to explore their data and seek to close gaps on these topics.

For more than six years, County Health Rankings & Roadmaps and NeighborWorks America have partnered to focus on the intersection of community development and health. In May 2019, Action Learning Coaches from County Health Rankings & Roadmaps were joined by NeighborWorks America’s Sarah Norman and community development leaders from 2017 Culture of Health Prize winner Chelsea, Massachusetts for a webinar further exploring housing as a foundation for good health. We are also partnering on new activities in the learning space that lift up the connection between health and housing, including co-sponsoring a Symposium on Closing the Life Expectancy Gap at the NeighborWorks Training Institute in New Orleans, LA, from August 19-23.

As we partner with Neighborworks to lift up the connection between health and housing, numerous opportunities arise for all of us to take action. Here’s three ways you can get started: