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How 6 Major Health Systems and Hospitals Hope to Boost Housing

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   March 04, 2019

The new initiative includes clarifying local housing priorities and creating pipelines of affordable housing opportunities.

A half-dozen health systems and hospitals have joined an initiative to work with community partners to increase affordable housing in their markets.

There is significant evidence showing that affordable housing makes a difference for people's physical and mental health as well as their feeling of connection and social cohesion. For example, if people are forced to make a choice between paying for rent and paying for medicine their health can deteriorate.

Last month, the Center for Community Investment (CCI) at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Cambridge, Massachusetts, launched Accelerating Investments for Healthy Communities. The initiative is designed to help health systems and hospitals marshal resources to increase affordable housing in the communities they serve, CCI Executive Director Robin Hacke says.

"They are able to help each other, and they are able to share their experiences. We are also putting together a pool of pre-development resources at their disposal, so it's a combination of technical support, an enabling environment in which they can do their work, and some specific assistance," she says.

The participating health systems and hospitals stretch across the country.

  • Cincinnati, Ohio-based Bon Secours Mercy Health
  • Boston Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts
  • San Francisco-based Dignity Health
  • Oakland, California-based Kaiser Permanente
  • Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio
  • UPMC in Pittsburgh

'Taking real responsibility'

The CCI initiative will help the health systems and hospitals to increase affordable housing in three ways.

  • CCI will work with the healthcare organizations to clarify local housing priorities and to understand market forces and community desires.
  • CCI will help the health systems and hospitals to create a pipeline of affordable housing opportunities then set criteria for prioritizing those projects. "We want them to get beyond the details and intricacies of a particular transaction to think about what it takes to move affordable housing in proportion to the size of the need," Hacke says.
  • CCI will encourage the healthcare providers to foster an enabling environment to support affordable housing expansion. This effort includes influencing policy, intervening in affordable housing trust funds, and using tax credits.

"What we are seeing is behavior that is going to become more common over time. We often say the future is now, it's just not evenly distributed. The health systems that are participating in this initiative are the ones that are seeing the move from volume to value and taking real responsibility for the health of their communities," Hacke says.

Finding community partners

Each health system and hospital has put together a team of partner organizations that reflects their local situation, she says.

"Sometimes, the partners are local governments like an urban redevelopment authority or a mayor's office. There are resident organizations like community development corporations or other neighborhood groups. Community foundations and local United Ways are part of the teams."

Other partners include banks, universities, and specialized development intermediaries called community development financial institutions that lend funds in areas that have low incomes.

CCI will help the health systems and hospitals identify community partners such as neighborhood groups, churches, civic associations, and philanthropic organizations, Hacke says. "We encourage the hospitals to have community benefit managers and others with this kind of knowledge."

Christopher Cheney is the CMO editor at HealthLeaders.


Research shows that affordable housing can bolster physical and mental health.

This new affordable housing initiative encourages health systems and hospitals to foster an enabling environment such as using tax credits.

There is a wide range of community partners that can help healthcare providers increase affordable housing.

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