In addition to a growing appreciation of the role of “social determinants of health”—housing, transportation, nutrition, and other factors in influencing health—it is becoming better understood that certain cross-sector partnerships can be particularly impactful in addressing social determinants and improving health. One of the most untapped of such beneficial partnerships is between the health and housing sectors. The housing and health sectors are natural partners to tackle a range of issues, including ending homelessness, helping older adults age in place, and improving health in under-resourced communities.

Partnerships don’t just happen, however. They need “connective tissue”—an infrastructure supporting frequent and systemic level collaborations—to help form the partnership and hold it together over time. Challenges such as COVID-19, homelessness and housing instability, and even climate change will require cross-sector solutions. Despite progress, the health and housing sectors remain at the elementary stages of developing the connective tissue that can facilitate such collaboration. As we learn more about the nature of this connective tissue, it is clear that concrete steps at the federal, state, and local levels are needed to encourage these sectors to work together to improve equity and effectiveness.

Connective tissue is a way of describing the infrastructure needed to support intentional alignment, coordination, and integration between sectors or organizations that serve the same or similar populations in a community. By “infrastructure” we mean both tangible elements, such as information exchange systems, financing, personnel, shared language, and the intangible elements of trust and shared goals. Developing systems and trust that address cross-sector needs does not just happen; it requires a deliberate process that moves beyond the individual goals of any one system towards a community-wide approach.

Affordable housing can be the platform for the range of services needed to promote good health, with housing as a foundational social driver of health. Using housing as the base for interacting with families, these housing-health partnerships can be particularly valuable for addressing the needs of certain populations, such as older adults and under-resourced families.

Read the full article about affordable housing and health by Stuart M Butler and Marcella Maguire at Brookings.