Research indicates that moving to a healthier, “higher-opportunity” neighborhood can improve a family’s health, even without any specific health interventions. Despite this, housing and health care are generally considered to be separate issues, with few systematic links and little coordination.
With a $125,000 grant from the Connecticut Health Foundation, the Open Communities Alliance will work to create better links between housing and health care and set the stage for a two-year pilot program to enable interested families of children with acute asthma to move to healthier neighborhoods.
The “Healthy Housing Vouchers” project aims to use housing policy to improve health outcomes for low-income families and reduce health disparities, tying together clinical and nonclinical factors that affect people’s well-being.
In Connecticut, there are significant racial and ethnic disparities in asthma. According to data from the state Department of Public Health, black children are five times as likely to go to the emergency room for asthma as white children.
Data also indicates that where people live can make a big difference in how long they live. Recently released data shows that the life expectancy in Hartford’s Northeast neighborhood, for example, is 68.9 years – nearly 12 years below the state average of 80.8 years. Just four miles away, in West Hartford Center, the life expectancy is 84.6 years.
In Connecticut, many people of color live in concentrated areas of high poverty and low opportunity. Half of black and Latino Connecticut residents live in census tracts considered “very low opportunity,” meaning they are likely to have high rates of crime, poverty, unemployment, and environmentally triggered physical and mental health conditions, according to an analysis by the Open Communities Alliance.
The Open Communities Alliance project will create a streamlined process for low-income families of children with asthma to help them access affordable housing in healthier communities if they choose. It will include referrals, counseling on the impact of environmental conditions on health, help identifying potential rental locations, and assistance with security deposits, moving expenses, and supportive services as they adapt to a new community. The initial participants in the pilot program will be low-income families who receive government-funded housing vouchers and have children with acute asthma.
The organization hopes the model of partnerships between affordable housing agencies and the health care sector can be replicated in other places. Ultimately, Open Communities Alliance envisions a system in which health care providers could “prescribe” healthy housing vouchers to families of children with environmentally triggered health conditions.
“We know that where you live can make a tremendous difference in your health. Our hope is that this project will help to create systematic linkages between health care and housing to better address the nonmedical factors that influence health outcomes,” said Tiffany Donelson, vice president of program at the Connecticut Health Foundation.
“This project is one part of a strategy to overcome social, economic, and health disparities that have resulted from governmental policies that created segregated housing patterns,” said Erin Boggs, Open Communities Alliance’s executive director. “Through this project, we are seeking to remove barriers faced by low-income families of color who wish to move to affordable housing in healthy, high-opportunity communities to improve their life outcomes. We hope this project will encourage health and housing stakeholders to embrace housing policy solutions as a means of improving health outcomes for low-income families. At the same time, we will continue to work with partners focused on improving health and opportunities in neighborhoods for families who do not wish to move.”