With evidence pointing to the benefits of a permanent residence, many see affordable housing investments as a key strategy for improving community health.
For example, the American Journal of Managed Care explains that stable housing has improved outcomes among early HIV/AIDS patients, reduced hospital visits among seniors, and lowered homeless populations’ reliance on emergency rooms.
Accordingly, health systems and other investors devoted to public health initiatives have emerged as allies in the battle against homelessness.
Housing Stability Enhances Health Outcomes
Housing stability and healthcare utilization are closely related, according to the Corporation for Supportive Housing. The nonprofit’s research shows that:
- Living in a physical shelter can reduce infection rates and traumatic incidents.
- Supportive housing can improve engagement with the healthcare system.
- A consistent address can foster a deeper connection to a community.
Likewise, a 2017 report by the American Hospital Association explained that housing instability can contribute to poor health conditions due to exposure to environmental hazards, a smaller support network, and challenges in managing chronic conditions and stress. The report added that medical issues that existed prior to acute housing challenges can exacerbate the situation if they limit employment opportunities or entail an extra financial burden.
A leading approach for promoting stable housing is the Housing First model, developed by Dr. Sam Tsemberis in New York City in 1992. In the model, chronically homeless individuals, who may be dealing with a myriad of issues, are first provided a stable place to live and then given therapy to start moving forward.
While the approach has found success, it is not a “silver bullet.” As one Canadian study of homeless populations contending with addiction found, program operators must provide residents ongoing mental health and other support in order to “address other areas of functioning” beyond housing alone, “such as health, substance use, and quality of life.”
Healthcare Systems Take on Affordable Housing Investments
Drawn to the connections between stable housing and improved community health, many nonprofit health systems have prioritized affordable housing investments. Research published in Health Affairs found that 64% of the $2.5 billion invested in community health initiatives between 2017 and 2019 went to housing-related programs. The Urban Institute notes that hospitals may fund these investments not only with their community benefit budgets but also with capital from their endowments, pensions, and insurance reserves.
Developments such as the construction of a 250-unit apartment complex in Cleveland’s Clark-Fulton neighborhood—funded in part by the MetroHealth System—and the purchase and renovation of a 41-unit apartment building in Oakland, California, by Kaiser Permanente underscore the commitment health organizations are making to affordable housing.
Other investors support affordable housing projects in the service of impact goals beyond health, from reducing poverty and supporting educational success to improving local economic vibrancy. Yet even these other benefits align with the social determinants of health, a complex blend of inputs that help explain health disparities and offer concrete action areas for investors hoping to improve community well-being.
Want to learn more about impact investing in healthcare? Read:
- Investing to Address Social Determinants of Health
- Can Healthcare Partnerships Help Meet the Needs of Base-of-Pyramid Populations?
- Amid Opioid Crisis, Shareholders Push for Better Governance in the Pharmaceutical Sector
- Private Equity Supports Healthcare in Emerging Markets
- Healthcare Resources Get a New Tool: Development Impact Bonds