Housing is at the core of a healthy community. The way in which a community responds to the need for housing will have lasting impacts for generations to come. The connection between housing and health has been long discussed since the 1970’s. Both medical and urban planning professionals recognized the connection between the environment and health issues in the population1. In the late 1990’s and earlier 2000’s, researchers began to look at the relationships between housing and health status in communities2. Kreiger and Higgins in 2003, recognized housing as a determinate of health, and called for public health officials to create healthier homes by addressing substandard housing conditions in their communities3. Yet, there continues to be a health literacy gap between the healthcare, public health, social services, and urban planning/design professionals. The process for addressing these health issues and building affordable housing while efficient is often segmented, with the stakeholders, professionals and community having little collaboration.
We know poor housing conditions are linked to a wide range of health conditions including; asthma, lead poisoning, respiratory infections and mental health2. There is a growing body of evidence about the health inequities in communities influenced by social, income, education and life course factors, all of which can be linked back to the quality of housing2,4. Armed with this growing body of knowledge, how do we over come the barriers to improve housing, health and the quality of life in our communities?
There are number of projects around the United States worth noting that are tackling these problems with mixed results. Recently, the Enterprise Community Partners (ECP) initiated a pilot program, to incorporate health planning into the affordable housing and design process5. Five CDC organizations worked with ECP and public health professionals to develop and implement “Health Actions Plans” for affordable housing projects in the following cities; Los Angeles, New Orleans, Chicago, Atlanta and New York5. The purpose of the project was to introduce health outcomes as a design criterion in the development process. The results of the project broadened developers understanding of the connections between health and housing, that community participation is essential, working with public health professionals early in the process is needed, health data can add to the design process, and there is a high need for quality monitoring through the program to measure results5. Improving health outcomes for residents through the built environment is a relatively new priority for the affordable housing industry5. However, it is going to take greater collaboration among stakeholders and community partners, earlier in the process for improved results.
Health Communities: Apdative Housing James Carroll, APA, APHA, IEDC Senior Community Health Planner
We can describe a community’s health capacity as its ability to adapt to changing conditions to sustain a high quality of life. Communities need to be able to understand obstacles and barriers that inhibit progress, and allows them to achieve measurable and sustainable results.
Housing is at the core of a healthy community. The way in which a community responds to the need for housing has lasting impacts for decades to come.
Over the last year or so, I have conducted a number of housing market studies in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States. There are strong indicators the senior population will peak and begin to decline around 2025. This will vary depending on the market location, population density and several other factors.
States have heavily supported funding for senior housing over the last 20 years, communities have created land-use regulations to accommodate this type of housing, and developers have invested billions of dollars in developing the product and setting. Often this type of housing has restrictions on the use and populations who can live there. As the senior populations decline many communities may experience a rapid increase in surplus housing that could be unusable for other purposes.
It’s time to rethink the way we approach housing development in our communities. Leaders and stakeholders need to take a more adaptive approach to accommodate the need to repurpose housing products, while meeting the changing housing needs of our communities.