Six health organizations work with the help of the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund to address the many factors that go into a person’s health and well-being.
Expanding affordable housing with support from health systems is one way to address the problem, said Eric Muschler, director of housing and health equity at the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund (GMHF). Its Housing and Health Justice Grant program includes CentraCare, Essentia Health, M Health Fairview, Allina Health, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota and Children’s Minnesota. These organizations work with the GMHF to better address the root causes of housing insecurity.
“We believe that living means health,” said Muschler. “There is a consensus in research that says, ‘If you’re more stable in your home, your health outcomes will be better.'”
Health care organizations with the funds to rehabilitate, like Essentia Health in Duluth, want to build affordable housing that could improve health outcomes, said Tonya Loken, community relations director at Essentia Health.
Muschler said improving housing conditions will have a positive impact on health care organizations because of the high costs associated with frequent emergency room visits.
“The impact on the stability of the individual and the reduced use of emergency rooms, the increase in primary care and shorter hospital visits all have positive implications for the bottom line of healthcare,” Muschler said.
Loken said the cohort is encouraged to consider alternative ways to fund their projects outside of grants.
“Rather than just thinking about the grants, they can think about the investments they can make. You can get money back from the investments, so you have both a financial and a programmatic return on the investment,” Muschler said.
The program began in March and will run through November. As part of the process, the six teams of healthcare professionals meet and learn about funding and community development to become more familiar with how their organization can contribute to affordable housing efforts.
For example, Loken says Essentia Health has been considering revamping an existing employee deposit support program to focus on areas around the hospital and to support homeownership.
The GMHF offers knowledge to healthcare organizations to find different forms of funding and do the “things the market can’t do,” said Robin Hacke, founder and executive director of the Center for Community Investment (CCI), which has coordinated similar efforts nationally.
“If you imagine water flowing downhill with the help of gravity, then this is how the market works. When we talk about community investment, we pump the water up the hill. It takes a lot more effort, and involving community development financial institutions like GMHF can help simplify things for healthcare systems,” she said.
Hacke helps with the Minnesota grantee program, drawing on her experience from previous programs, such as one in Maryland that aimed to prevent gentrification and preserve affordable housing along the 16-mile light rail line currently under development.
“Over the past six and a half years, the center has run a number of national programs that work with health systems to help them make upfront investments, particularly in affordable housing,” Hacke said. “One of our opportunities is to free up resources from non-traditional community investment actors: healthcare systems, be they healthcare plans or hospital systems, are really important potential community investors because their goal of promoting community wellbeing is really well aligned with the social determinants of health. “
The Maryland case led to more direct investment in affordable housing and supported nearly 2,000 housing units in the region, Hacke said. The success was due to the region’s funding efforts and policies related to affordable housing, which she believes Minnesota can benefit from.
“Minnesota has a lot of progressive affordable housing rules and funding sources that have just been introduced by the legislature,” she said. “There’s a real opportunity now… to translate that into a whole series of actions. Our hope is that as these teams reflect on the regions they prioritize, they can leverage these resources through their own investments, in some cases in their land, to create affordable housing throughout Minnesota.”