Why Hospitals Are Building Housing

Originally published on Reasons to be Cheerful.

As U.S. coronavirus infections rolled past 30,000 this weekend, approximately one in four Americans is under some kind of order not to leave home. But as Ruth Ann Norton knows, which home they’re confined to makes a world of difference.

“Housing is such an integral part of health in this country,” says Norton, president and CEO of the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, a non-profit that advocates for healthier housing measures like lead removal and clean air. For example, families that have lead removed are “less likely to have respiratory exacerbations,” which Norton says will likely have an impact in this pandemic, since coronavirus is a respiratory illness. “We did not think about or know about or anticipate the coronavirus, but what we know is that when people are better equipped, they’re less likely to be poisoned by lead, and be safer from injury.”

From eviction moratoriums to hastily reconfigured homeless shelters, the coronavirus is making one thing abundantly clear: the connection between health and housing runs deep. A Robert Woods Johnson Foundation report “found that low-income people with difficulty paying rent, mortgage or utility bills were less likely to have a usual source of medical care… [and] children in areas with higher rates of unaffordable housing tended to have worse health.”

These links have become so apparent that some hospital systems have started spending their money not just on health care facilities and staff, but on housing for the communities they serve. These interventions have taken on new urgency amid the worst public health crisis in a century as people’s homes have become, quite literally, bulwarks against a dangerous disease.

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