Access to Housing is a Key Social Determinant of Health

This week, I had the opportunity to speak with Rachel Post, a Senior Associate at the Technical Assistance Collaborative (TAC), about TAC’s Housing and Healthy Communities Learning Network.

Access to safe, affordable housing is an important social determinant of health. The first cohort of health care leaders to participate in the learning network focused on ways that hospitals can support finding permanent housing for vulnerable residents of their communities who are frequent users of emergency departments and inpatient beds.

These vulnerable individuals have complex and often under-treated health and behavioral health conditions. Healthcare leaders across the country, especially those leading mission driven organizations, are looking for ways both to help patients stabilize their lives and to be better neighbors in, and supporters of, their local community.

Having the opportunity to do a deep dive into issues related to housing vulnerable individuals can give healthcare leaders the knowledge they need to do this important work.

“Hospital and healthcare leaders are demonstrating a growing recognition of the powerful ways health outcomes are improved by access to safe and affordable housing,” Rachel Wrote in her blog post, “Health and Housing – A Peer-to-Peer Learning Opportunity for Health Care Leaders,” “ By forming innovative partnerships and programs to address the housing and supportive service needs of vulnerable populations, health care entities have the opportunity not only to improve individuals’ well-being but to reduce costs and strengthen communities as well.”

TAC hopes to help such efforts succeed by educating healthcare leadership both about the important role of housing, and about the many opportunities for partnership between housing and healthcare systems. Rachel’s blog post highlights collaboration, finding the right data, working with systems of all sizes, variety in partners, and innovations around housing and healthcare as critical topics in peer-to-peer learning for health care leaders.

Collaboration is most effective when it involves partnering with a variety of sectors, which she writes about in her blog post. In the future, healthcare and housing collaborative partners could expand to include workforce investment boards, state departments of vocational rehabilitation and the community college systems. Including these sectors in the healthcare and housing work can help those who have stabilized their health through new supportive housing initiatives to gain economic advancements.

Rachel pointed out in our conversation, that ten years ago, no one was tracking patients’ housing status along with their health. Ten years from now, we may be tracking housing status along with other social determinants of health.

Communities where partnerships between hospitals and housing systems are in the very early stages have already seen significant public and private investments. Successfully helping a vulnerable person improve their health will need similar creativity that is being applied through innovative housing and healthcare partnerships.

The New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency is incentivizing hospitals to develop multifamily housing with set-aside units for frequent utilizers of hospital emergency departments.

Says Rachel, “It is very exciting to see a state HMFA doing this.” Moving forward, Rachel says “TAC Is very excited to offer a second round of the Housing and Healthy Communities Learning Network this spring.”

This opportunity is for hospital systems and TAC has been very pleased with feedback from those who participated in the first cohort of the Learning Network.

Maybe in years ahead we will see a Learning Network centered around housing and higher education.