Addressing Pandemic Needs

Innovation and Housing as a Platform for Childhood Prosperity

By: Marcus Smith, MBA and Jacquelyn M. Rose, MPH

This is the last in a series of four blog posts that we plan to publish during Healthy Homes Month that explores how organizations can leverage housing innovations as a platform to help children to flourish, thrive, and succeed.

People regularly ask what is the most promising and most impactful program, service, or resource that will help children prosper. Our answer – there isn’t one. There is no one driving factor influencing childhood prosperity. Rather, it is the combination of and connection between social, behavioral, and environmental influences that truly makes a difference. To successfully support childhood prosperity, we cannot support children in isolation from their surroundings, but rather must support children in the context of their surroundings by strengthening families and supporting communities.

The Intersection of Housing and Health

Housing is one of the primary sectors in which social, behavioral, and environmental influences intersect, which explains why housing has such a profound impact on child health, development, and well-being. We have seen notable progress among health systems in leveraging housing as a platform for child health, development, and well-being, which promotes childhood prosperity. Such progress and successes include:

  • Nationwide Children’s in Columbus, Ohio, which collaborated with local nonprofits and other city stakeholders to improve housing options in the neighborhood surrounding the hospital campus. What started as a small grant program to renovate underinvested homes evolved over time to include large-scale investment in the development of multifamily housing that includes neighborhood health clinics and workforce training classrooms.
  • Boston Medical Center is making a range of investments in neighborhood nonprofits to construct and renovate affordable housing in communities where many high utilizers of its emergency department live in substandard housing. Their goal is to improve community health and patient outcomes while reducing medical costs.

While significant strides have been made to improve housing quality, safety, and accessibility, opportunities still exist.

Addressing Housing Instability

Lawmakers, policy advocates and regulators have a chance to acknowledge the interconnectedness between the housing ecosystem and COVID-19, which very quickly destabilized millions of households. In the first month after the start of the pandemic, nearly one-third of renters reported not being able to pay their April rent, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council. With 15% of households and 30% of renters already being housing insecure in pre-pandemic times, meaning they pay more than half of their income on housing costs, such dramatic shifts can have devastating effects.

In response to the pandemic, many state and local officials quickly moved to temporarily forestall evictions due to nonpayment of rent. The CARES Act protected renters of federally funded properties. As many of these moratoriums roll off in the coming weeks, advocates worry that evictions will spike, and the resulting housing instability will have consequences for a wide range of health factors including maternal mental health and early childhood development.

One way to address housing instability in our communities would be to invest in housing assistance. Currently, only one in four households that qualify for rental assistance actually receive it. However, if states and local communities make housing assistance available to more renters, families would be far less likely to sacrifice healthcare or nutrition to pay their rent. Also, landlords would be made whole, enabling them to pay their mortgages, make critical health and safety improvements, and avoid foreclosures and evictions. They would also be able to pay their real estate taxes, which pays for essential services and education. All of this combined makes for stronger families and communities, as one investment in housing assistance also yields benefits with proper nutrition, accessible healthcare, school funding and stable housing. Those are all critical sectors in supporting child, family and community health and well-being.

Supporting Housing Innovations

Childhood Prosperity Lab (the Lab) and Connecticut Children’s Healthy Homes Program are resources for changemakers seeking to leverage housing as a platform for child health, development, and well-being. Together, we can support changemakers as they develop, test, and refine strategies intended to address the opportunities highlighted above, as well as develop and execute strategies to increase the scale and impact of effective strategies.

The Lab supports the development of innovative strategies that promote child health, development, and well-being and nurtures changemakers who are reimagining how to help all children prosper in the following ways:

  • Meaningfully engaging stakeholders so that we can support comprehensive system building and build alignment across systems and sectors.
  • Incubating innovative strategies in Mastermind Sessions with advisors who are experienced at program planning, testing, implementation, evaluation, and dissemination, and expertise in the different factors driving child health, development, and well-being.
  • Advancing innovative strategies by engaging changemakers in technical assistance and coaching in an effort to help them reach their desired level of impact.
  • Nurturing organizational culture of innovation so that organizations have the tools, skills, and resources to innovate solutions to the challenges and barriers children and families too often face.

Are you a changemaker leveraging housing as a platform to support child health, development and well-being? We want to hear from you! Email us at childhoodprosperitylab@connecticutchildrens.org and tell us how you are supporting childhood prosperity.

Read additional blogs in this series:
Part 1 – When #StayHome Does Not Equal #StayHealthy
Part 2 – Healthy Housing: Innovation Gone Wrong
Part 3 – Healthy Housing: Moving the Needle From Intervention to Prevention

Marcus Smith is the senior manager of Connecticut Children’s Healthy Homes Program, which is a program of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health.

Jacquelyn M. Rose, MPH, is the program manager for the Childhood Prosperity Lab, which is a program of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health.

To sign up to receive E-Updates from Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health, click here.

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