Intersection of Housing and Healthcare

Jan 31, 2017

A mentally ill homeless person living on the streets can cost New York City more than $56,000 a year, according to Breaking Ground, a local nonprofit that supplies affordable and subsidized housing.

That same formerly homeless person living in subsidized affordable housing can drop that cost to $24,000 — less than half.

Breaking Ground’s philosophy of “putting ‘housing first’ infinitely increases the likelihood that an individual can achieve sobriety, live healthier, and contribute actively to society,” notes Metropolis magazine.

Healthcare and affordable housing are inextricably linked. Study after study shows that giving people an affordable place to live, whether via subsidies, donations or simply, ensuring families have enough room to live, significantly improves their health while decreasing the cost burden to the healthcare network.

A child born to a mother who was homeless before and after giving birth is 41 percent more likely to be hospitalized at some point after the birth than a child born to a mother living in affordable housing, according to a report released by Children’s HealthWatch. In one year, 2015, the organization found that “food-insecure families with rental assistance” avoided 1,200 hospital trips, at an estimated cost of $20 million.

“These infant health care savings were attributable to their families’ living in affordable housing in the pre-natal period,” the report notes.

And it’s not just the extreme cases of young children or mentally ill homeless adults.

“Adults living in unaffordable housing are more likely to describe themselves as being in fair or poor health compared to similar individuals living in affordable housing,” according to a literature review by the Center for Housing Policy. “Cost burdened adults are also more likely to report failure to fill a prescription or adhere to health care treatments as a result of cost.”

In other words, medical needs fall to the wayside when people struggle just to keep a roof over their heads. It’s about the cost of healthcare, but also ties into things like not wanting to take a day off work for a doctor appointment, if that means one less day of paid work, or if doctor visits incur travel expenses. This can start a spiral of people only seeking treatment when conditions worsen to the point of emergency. A $100 per month prescription may be cheaper than an overnight hospitalization, but families who struggle with housing affordability may not have that extra $100 every month.

In addition to the dollars and cents of covering pill costs or doctor visits, affordable housing developments offer the opportunity for agencies to conduct outreach among a higher-risk population. Social services agencies can have staff on the ground in apartment complexes offering checkups and connections to other services throughout the community. Some affordable housing developments, such as Breaking Ground’s, have health clinics on site. Even efforts as simple as mailers or pages slipped under a door with a list of providers, phone numbers, and payment options could mean the difference between have a pediatrician to call for an annual checkup, or a child ending up an emergency room.

At Good Shepherd Housing, for example, we offer budgeting and financial empowerment workshops for families, and can help ensure they take their medical needs into consideration. We also have phone numbers and information for other local assistance agencies, including health care services, ready for any of the more than 1,000 families we serve.