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How Georgia is Improving Affordable Housing as a Platform for Health

Southface Institute
Jimmy Dills, Research Associate, Georgia Health Policy Center, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University

Jimmy Dills, Research Associate, Georgia Health Policy Center, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University

By Jimmy Dills, Georgia Health Policy Center

Access to quality, affordable housing is critical for supporting good health. For individuals and families with tight budgets, high housing costs can lead to tough choices between making rent and going to the doctor, between keeping the lights on and buying healthy food, or even between being part of a community or becoming socially isolated.

Housing and community development professionals across the United States are becoming increasingly aware of how much influence their decisions have on community health. Responsibly wielding this influence requires time and partnerships across professional boundaries. Georgia is recognized as a national leader in tackling this challenge.

Since 2013, the Georgia Health Policy Center has worked in partnership with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to bring health perspectives into the state’s affordable housing policies and practices. The partnership began with a health impact assessment of the state’s 2015 Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP) for Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, a key policy for affordable housing development.

The assessment provided information that led to shifts in policy aimed at improving opportunities for future residents to make healthy choices. These included:

  • Including health and safety options for required on-site resident services, like nutrition classes or CPR training
  • Improving processes to accelerate incentives for developments near high-quality schools, which improves chances of lifelong educational attainment and economic success, as well as improved health for children living in those developments
  • Adopting an innovative process for identifying community-level health risks for proposed low-income housing sites and responding to those risks accordingly

The 2015 report was well received in Georgia and nationally. The initial health impact assessment process allowed the Georgia Health Policy Center to develop a deeper understanding of Georgia’s affordable housing system and where public health could add value.

This, in turn, led to more opportunities for collaboration. In 2016, the center conducted a follow-up assessment in partnership with the Georgia Department of Public Health examining project-level implications of recommendations made in the 2015 report. This work led to an entire section in that year’s QAP update devoted to health promotion.

By 2017, DCA had set “Health Outcomes for Residents” as a state priority for the annual QAP and included a full scoring section on healthy housing initiatives. The Georgia Health Policy Center continues to collaborate with DCA and housing developers to support this priority. We now actively participate as a stakeholder during QAP updates, providing population health perspectives on proposed changes each year. We also partner with sustainable building experts at SK Collaborative to help development teams design “Healthy Housing Initiatives” for their applications.

Georgia-based collaborations continue to be active, with the Kresge Foundation funding the Georgia Homes for Healthy Futures project in 2017. This ongoing partnership between DCA, the Georgia Health Policy Center, Southface Energy Institute and several local housing authorities around the state continues to advance affordable housing as a platform for health.

In addition to providing direct input on multiple public housing renovation plans, it also affords an opportunity to work directly with residents affected by these renovations and measure health-related outcomes.

Georgia has made significant gains in aligning health and housing perspectives over the last five years. The Bipartisan Policy Center says affordable housing provides “a foundation that allows individuals, families, and communities to thrive,” emphasizing that “Georgia is leading the way” and encouraging other states to follow suit.

The Georgia Health Policy Center is proud to have facilitated the foundational work to help set Georgia on this trajectory and is excited to continue facilitating the necessary partnerships to not only realize the potential for housing as a platform for health, but to realize the potential of health-informed policy as a platform for opportunity.

Jimmy Dills is a research associate at the Georgia Health Policy Center in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University. He has a large portfolio of health impact assessment and healthy community design projects.

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