New Developments: Let’s All Make Housing Healthier

3 min read

As you will read repeatedly in this issue, affordable housing is one of the most effective (and cost-effective) healthcare interventions, particularly for vulnerable populations, like the homeless. Without the stability of an affordable home, it is very difficult to treat the root causes of many common, yet intervenable, illnesses and conditions that plague modern America, whether it be hypertension, diabetes, obesity, asthma, mental illness or a myriad of other societal ills. There is a growing consensus among epidemiologists and public health professionals that affordable housing is a critical part of the holistic solution.

National Housing & Rehabilitation Association and our members have been proud to be leaders in innovative partnering between the healthcare and affordable housing sectors. At a recent conference in Nashville, TN, we highlighted how the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (Nashville’s public housing authority) financed an onsite dialysis clinic to both treat residents (and the surrounding community) with kidney disease while creating healthcare career opportunities for public housing residents.

USA Properties Fund of Roseville, CA, led by NH&RA Vice-Chair Geoff Brown, has partnered with LifeSTEPS to establish their “RN Case Management Program,” which brings nurses to three of their housing communities to help navigate health issues for residents who can’t easily get to a doctor within their apartment community.

In 2011, the Schuett Companies of Golden Valley, MN established CompassionCare, a home healthcare company that provides on-site resident-centered care to help their residents age in place. (See A Day of CompassionCare) Members, like National Church Residents and HallKeen Management, have been innovators in developing affordable assisted-living models, which I believe will be of critical importance in the coming years.

These are all ambitious initiatives that can serve as models for affordable housing developers around the country. There are also lots of low cost/no cost strategies owners can pursue in the course of their day-to-day business that can have a powerful impact on health outcomes of residents and even employees. For example, many companies have gone “smoke-free” in the past few years. Beyond the obvious health benefits (the Centers for Disease Control reports on its website that smoking is still the “leading cause of preventable death” and that more than 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking), this also reduces the risk of fires in units, lowers turnover costs and increases the amount of discretionary income of residents.

Simply being cognizant of health in the course of our day-to-day operations can make a big difference. For example, the cost of healthy building materials, such as low-VOC/no-VOC paint and eco-friendly flooring, has dropped dramatically over the past several years and are often at parity with less healthy traditional building materials. While there is some pleasure in the experience of that first whiff of “new unit,” its lingering effects on residents with asthma can be devastating. Things as simple as being diligent about changing air filters on the manufacturers recommended schedule will improve indoor air quality (and the performance of the HVAC system). As we learned in a panel at NH&RA’s 2019 Asset Management Conference last June, today there is an array of health cleaning supplies that property managers can upgrade to better protect the health of their employees.

I challenge all of our readers to take up the mantle of healthy housing in their businesses in 2020. It’s the right thing to do and it’s a long-term investment in your company, portfolio and residents.

Thom joined National Housing & Rehabilitation Association (NH&RA) in 2004 and currently serves as its as Executive Vice-President and Executive Director. NH&RA is a national trade association and peer-network for affordable housing and tax credit developers and related professionals including: investors, lenders, public agencies and professional advisers. Thom directs the association’s day-to-day operations including legislative and regulatory advocacy, committee activities, conferences and events, publications, financial management and strategic planning. Thom also serves as the Executive Director of the Tennessee Developers Council, a state-wide trade association for affordable housing developers and professionals active in Tennessee. In 2013 he spearheaded the launch of NH&RA's Preservation through Energy Efficiency Project, a major educational initiative supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Thom also serves on the Board of Directors for International Center for Appropriate & Sustainable Technology (iCAST) as well as the Advisory Board for its ResourceSmart program, a turn-key, cost-effective, green rehab provider for multifamily affordable and market-rate housing communities and nonprofit facilities. Thom is a frequent speaker at affordable housing, sustainable development and tax credit industry events and has been published in a variety of industry journals including Tax Credit Advisor, Independent Banker, and the Novogradac Journal of Tax Credit Housing. Thom also serves as the Associate Publisher of Tax Credit Advisor, a monthly magazine for tax credit and affordable housing professionals and is an Executive Vice-President at Dworbell Inc., a boutique association management and communications firm in Washington, DC. Thom was previously employed at a national lobbying firm focusing on financial services and technology issues. Prior to moving to Washington, Thom worked in media relations in the New York State Assembly and as a research assistant for New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen. Thom graduated Magna Cum Laude from Tufts University with a double major in Political Science and History.