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The good news is that there are already successful collaborations and that these efforts yield cost savings.
In Seattle, public health and housing leaders are working together to reduce allergens in low-income homes that can cause asthma, a scourge of low-income children that results in an estimated 13 million missed school days and $3.2 billion in treatment costs.
Mercy Housing — a nonprofit affordable housing developer — found that its San Francisco Mission Creek Senior Apartments have created a healthier environment for seniors and are saving the city almost $1.5 million a year, according to another Health Affairs study.
At a time when we must do more with less, creating similar partnerships makes fiscal sense. An unhealthy workforce adds to health care costs and is less productive. Preventing disease is cheaper than treating illness.
Yet while current collaborations are encouraging, we need to do more to make sure health is in all policies. Housing leaders and community developers must make health improvement part of their blueprint. And the health sector must work with them to build healthy communities — where the healthy choice is the easy choice.
How do we move forward? We propose creating an ongoing partnership between the health and housing sectors to make sure housing and community development activities are optimally designed to improve residents’ health. The affordable housing sector contributes the ability to develop affordable housing and improve neighborhoods, and the health sector supplies the research and expertise about health impacts. HUD and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation are ready to move forward, and we hope that others will join us.
Raphael Bostic is assistant secretary for policy development and research at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey is president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.