Community Development as a Healthcare Strategy

By Corey Carlisle

What makes a home often brings up descriptions of shelter, security and the center of daily life for most families. Given that we spend most of our time indoors, in our homes, public health groups are paying much attention to physical and environmental (including neighborhood) factors that influence health—factors like where we live. This growing focus, led by promising research and evidence, shows that investment in housing and broader community development can lead to improved health outcomes in communities.

According to the Public Health Institute, there have been more than 30 healthy communities conferences in recent years convened by the regional Federal Reserve Banks. Inspired by PHI’s Build Healthy Places Network and led by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the events strive to deepen cross-sector collaboration between community development, public health, finance and health care.

In a report from the University of California San Francisco Center on Social Disparities in Health, David Erickson at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s Center for Community Development Investments says, “there is an entire industry—community development—with annual resources in the tens of billions of dollars that is in the ‘ZIP-code improving’ business. And in the health field, there is increasing recognition of the need to act on the social determinants of health. The time to merge these two approaches—improving health by addressing its social determinants and revitalizing low-income neighborhoods—is now.”

As a means of connecting otherwise separate programs, Morgan Stanley launched the “Healthy Cities” initiative, which helps provide wellness education and health screenings, healthy foods and safe play spaces for communities in need. These innovative solutions give children access to the combined resources they need for a healthy start in life. Since its launch in 2014, the program has engaged more than 9,000 of their employee volunteers to make 3.2 million healthy meals, 36,000 medical screenings and 7,000 new playgrounds a reality.

“Through Healthy Cities, we and our partners will test new models to help children get the healthy start they need for lifelong achievement,” says Morgan Stanley Chairman and CEO James Gorman. “We hope the learnings from these initiatives can benefit other communities and organizations looking to integrate programs for added impact.”

Examples of these types of investment and thinking are not limited to large banks. American National Bank, a $3.5 billion institution based in Omaha, Neb., worked with a local health and wellness service provider to help finance the rehabilitation of a downtown apartment building. The renovation includes a residential housing and treatment program that provides long-term substance abuse and mental health assistance for women with children.

Bringing this project to fruition required a wide range of resources. A capital campaign for the $13 million project included a construction and equity bridge loan from the bank, HOME funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Low Income Housing Tax Credits allocation through the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority and an Affordable Housing Program grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Topeka.

The new facility has significantly increased HFS’ treatment space. And by keeping mothers with their children, instead of putting them into the foster care system, higher graduation rates have been achieved and newborns are welcomed into a drug-free environment.

ABA Foundation celebrates each June as American Housing Month, highlighting consumers issues and industry trends or innovations in the finance of affordable housing. Whether it’s addressing the problem of substance addiction or giving kids a healthy start, crossover solutions such as these can have an outsized impact on health outcomes for families and the communities where they live.