Housing: A Prescription for Healthy Communities

This entry was contributed by on January 17th, 2019 at 7:04 pm and is filed under .
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The impact of housing on health is a growing topic of discussion in health transformation in public health conferences around the country. Dr. Megan Sandel MD, MPH, the nation’s leading expert on how housing impacts child health, is coming to Greensboro for Housing Summit 2019.

In Greensboro, community partnerships are already addressing health through housing interventions.

Here are five of the ways:

1. As we age or experience mobility challenges, our housing may no longer fit our needs for accessibility and safety; we may risk injuries from falling and become isolated in our own homes.

Prescription: Aging Gracefully. Community Housing Solutions and Triad Healthcare Network are partnering to modify homes and medical protocols to the specific needs of each homeowner to improve health. As part of a national research study, this Greensboro partnership is proving the benefits of the integrated approach.

Read Ruby McBee’s story here.  

2. As housing conditions deteriorate, mold and pests and fire hazards and lead dust threaten our health.

Prescriptions: Housing repairs, from addressing water leaks and electrical shorts to using Integrated Pest Management and Lead Safe Work Practices, are restoring houses and apartments to safe condition.  City housing rehabilitation programs and Lead Hazard Control grants, as well as nonprofit home repair programs, help homeowners and rental owners address health risks. When owners are unwilling to repair, code enforcement inspectors can order them to correct code violations—or, with due process, the city can repair and place a first-position lien on the property.

Watch this video to see the difference that housing makes for Dr. Mulberry’s young asthma patient at Mustard Seed Community Health.

3. As our income and utility bills fluctuate, we experience stress about our ability to pay housing costs plus other basic needs. Do we pay rent or mortgage, or do we eat or buy medication?

Prescriptions: HUD-approved Housing Counseling agencies guide homeowners through foreclosure prevention options to save their homes. Greensboro’s eviction rate is highest in NC; legal counsel, social work services, landlord and tenant education, and additional affordable housing would preserve stability and health.

4. As we lose our homes and try to survive on the streets, the dangers and deprivation and despair compromise our physical and mental health and send us to hospital emergency departments—or jail.

Prescription: In supportive housing, house keys replace hospital wrist bands or handcuffs. Let’s pair services—mental health, case management, nursing, employment—with conveniently-located apartments or shared housing and subsidies for rents affordable on extremely low wages or disability income.

Read about Housing Summit speaker Andy McMahon’s work with supportive housing here.

5. As neighbors are displaced by substandard conditions or eviction or foreclosure and homes depreciate, our communities suffer disinvestment and growing inequality, resulting in stark contrasts in life expectancy and hospital emergency visits.

Prescription: Community-centered health revitalizes whole neighborhoods, where health strategies are led by community residents with support from nonprofit organizations, local government, hospitals and universities. Cottage Grove, in southeast Greensboro, is a national model for community leadership in transforming housing, fresh food access, and safe places to walk and play.  Meet the neighborhood here.

As partnerships continue to broaden and take action to implement healthy housing plans, save June 7 to hear more at UNCG’s Symposium RxHousing.

What opportunities does your community have for learning and connecting health and housing? Share them so that everyone can have a safe place to call home.

5 Responses to “Housing: A Prescription for Healthy Communities”

  1. John Stephens

    Beth – thanks for the specific prescriptions/responses for particular housing and health challenges. How does the March 27 summit relate to the general affordable/stable housing goals and strategies in Greensboro? I see this report from Dr. Keith Debbage of UNCG https://www.greensboro-nc.gov/home/showdocument?id=31183 which addresses four areas of benefits: economic, health, educational and environmental. I’m unclear on at what stage you see the vision/planning/action that local government and private-public work to build/preserve affordable housing in Greensboro. Thanks.

    • Beth McKee-Huger

      Dr. Keith Debbage’s report clearly states the economic, health, educational, and environmental benefit of policies, partnerships, and resources for increasing the supply of affordable housing. In 2016 he alerted us all to the alarming trend of the increasing affordability gap in Greensboro, while the gap is declining statewide and nationally. In the summer of 2018, the City of Greensboro decided to hire a consultant to develop a housing strategic plan but has not yet selected the consultant. In the meantime, nonprofit organizations, universities, and health institutions are creating exciting cross-sector partnerships, such as the ones described in my blog-post, that demonstrate the Return on Investment of innovative methods to preserve affordable housing. We have much to do; today the News & Record published a report that highlights Guilford County’s eviction rate https://www.greensboro.com/opinion/columns/sydney-idzikowski-despite-some-recent-strides-eviction-rates-in-north/article_63fd31a1-bf64-5add-a332-862b6ef7380b.html

      • John Stephens

        Beth – Thanks for extending the conversation. Glad to know of your work, with many partnerships, before the formal establishment of a city government strategic housing plan.

  2. Vaughn Upshaw

    I’m glad to see this post and know efforts to address the issues surrounding healthy housing are being brought to the forefront. To create a healthy community, we need strategic public investments designed to address the underlying systems directly affecting our quality of life. The Centers for Disease Control has developed a strategic five-year vision to impact the underlying challenges to health outcomes. Among the priority interventions is a call to improve loans and grants to improve housing for low-income families. There is considerable evidence showing home improvements contribute to improved general health status, respiratory health, mental health and reduced visits to the doctor’s office. Here is a link with more information about housing as a public health issue. This page contains links to additional resources, including the US Surgeon General’s call to action to Promote Healthy Homes.


  3. John Stephens

    Beth – thanks for your reply above. On another track, how “affordable housing” fits with other low/limited-income challenges, are you familiar with “ALICE”? Here is a post from my SOG colleague Maureen Berner – Meet ALICE: How the United Way is Creating a Portrait of the Working Poor in NC https://ced.sog.unc.edu/meet-alice-how-the-united-way-is-creating-a-portrait-of-the-working-poor-in-nc/#more-6813 And there are county-level calculations of poverty-rate versus the “basic survival household income” or “ALICE threshold” – https://www.unitedwayalice.org/national-comparison


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