In vibrant and thriving communities, people have the power and resources to realize their vision of health and well-being. Residents, regardless of zip code or how much money they have, can breathe clean air, eat healthy and culturally appropriate food, and have a safe, affordable place to call home.

However, in far too many places in the United States, that’s not the case. Decades of discriminatory housing, transportation, and land-use policy combined with economic disinvestment have resulted in communities that are residentially segregated by income, race, ethnicity, language, and immigration status. There are inequities in housing quality, stability, and access; and imbalances of power that favor markets, developers, and landlords.

The importance of housing as a social determinant of health has been well-documented by researchers and philanthropies alike. The research finds that housing affects health through three pathways: housing stability, housing affordability, and access to a health-promoting neighborhood. Housing instability—whether through homelessness or frequent evictions and moves—creates chronic, toxic stress and exposes people to traumatic and unhealthy situations. When housing is unaffordable, it leaves little money left over to buy healthy foods and critical medicines. The home you can afford also determines the neighborhood you can live in—a neighborhood with access to public transportation that can connect you with jobs and opportunities, grocery stores with nutritious foods, and safe spaces to exercise or one filled with pollutants, high-traffic roads, and crime, all of which have an impact on health. And when it comes to housing, just having a roof over your head is not enough. Whether it is developing asthma from mold caused by leaky ceilings, dealing with diseases caused by rodent infestations, or suffering from deadly waves of extreme heat when air conditioning units don’t work and don’t get fixed, poor housing conditions directly harm people’s health.

Safe, stable, and affordable housing in many ways is like preventive care, reducing the risk and likelihood of both displacement and poor health. When communities are uprooted and displaced, connections between neighbors, families, and other sources of community support are severed. Separating people from who and what they need causes trauma not just individually, but at the community level, which has negative consequences for people’s health.

At The Kresge Foundation, we wanted to learn more about how the work at the intersection of housing, health equity, and community power is being done and how we can incorporate this new understanding of these connected approaches into our grantmaking strategies. In 2018, we developed the Advancing Health Equity Through Housing (HEH) funding opportunity and supported 31 organizations working at the intersection of housing and health equity in cities across the United States. Many are grassroots organizations working on the ground with community residents, like Miami Workers CenterLatino Health Access, and New Kensington Community Development Corporation. Others, such as Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future, are intermediary organizations working to create tables and partnerships with other institutions and remove barriers. Some are doing both.

Read the full article about health and housing rights in communities by Stacey Barbas, Kate McLaughlin, Jessica Mulcahy and Vedette R. Gavin at Stanford Social Innovation Review.