Housing as a hub for health, community services, and upward mobility

Birds sit on a telephone line near Skid Row.

There is a growing recognition that, for people and neighborhoods to be healthy and successful, different sectors must work together and that investments in one sector can bring dividends in others. Housing, for example, is increasingly understood to be an important determinant of success in life, affecting health, access to education, and the opportunity for upward mobility.

The condition and location of a family’s home can affect such things as respiratory health and “toxic stress” among children, which can have lasting effects on individuals throughout their lives. The availability of good social services, positive social networks, and job opportunities can determine whether a family achieves the American Dream or not.

In “Housing as a hub for health, community services, and upward mobility” (PDF), Stuart Butler and Marcela Cabello explore the ways in which housing can affect the lives and success of individuals, and how the effect varies for different segments of the population. But, the authors find that in many instances there are a number of policy and other issues obstructing the capacity of housing to serve this vital purpose.

In their report, the authors offer four recommendations to strengthen the role housing plays for individual well-being:

  1. Improve data collection, sharing, and evaluation. Housing-based hubs and other community collaborations are hampered by their capacity to develop and share data, as well as weaknesses in techniques for measuring effectiveness. Improving techniques and processes could help ameliorate these obstacles.
  2. Improve budgetary coordination and funding experimentation. Maximizing the return on investments in housing-based initiatives requires flexible budgeting, as well as planning and coordination across agencies. This requires political leadership and policy reforms at the federal, state, city, and local levels.
  3. Experiment with different models to organize and manage housing-based services. Establishing and operating multisector programs within a hub puts great responsibilities on the management staff. Depending on the community and the stage of development of the housing hub, different models of management to link home and services might be most appropriate.
  4. Strengthen housing-health partnerships. Several hospital systems have undertaken significant housing-health partnerships. Some could be described as responses to financial “sticks,” such as using housing initiatives to comply with community benefit requirements on nonprofit hospitals. Others are “good citizen” philanthropic examples of the hospital assisting its local community. And others are creative new business models. These partnerships could have a number of benefits to the community, and governments should consider how best to expand and support them.

Read the full report here.