Connecting Housing And Health – COVID Helps Provide Links

An arial photo shows a crowded sea of houses, a rail junction, and large industrial buildings.
ChelseaMA-Aerial photo by formulanone is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Chelsea, MA, an industrial and working class city currently reinventing itself. Why is the city hard-hit by COVID-19, while one corner does far better?

Chelsea, Massachusetts is a neighbour to Boston. Its level of COVID infections is 918/10,000, the highest in the state. Like other communities with high infection rates, Chelsea residents are more likely to be Latinex, newcomers, have lower incomes, be working in a job that exposes them to COVID, or trying to survive on an income that has been cut back or disappeared entirely.

But within Chelsea, there is a small population that shares all of Chelsea’s characteristics and has a much lower infection rate. This group of 1,175 lives in units of non-profit housing owned by The Neighborhood Developers (TND). Here the COVID infection rate is 119/10,000, which is roughly nine times less than Chelsea’s overall rate of infections.

In addition to being a housing provider, TND offers training and support to people who live in Chelsea. This is open to TND tenants and Chelsea residents: 6,000 people participate. When COVID arrived, TND was in a good position to notice the lower frequency of infection amongst its tenants compared with people who lived elsewhere in the city. Commenting on possible reasons for the difference in infection rates, Ann Houston notes that residents of TND housing are less crowded together than program participants who live in the community. This makes it easier to follow isolation protocols when there is a risk of infection and if a member of the household becomes infected.

Ann is CEO of Opportunity Communities (OppCo), which is comprised of non-profit organizations in the Boston area (TND is a founding member). OppCo aims to build communities that are supported and controlled by their residents. Quality, safe and affordable housing was a focal point even before COVID: the experience of the recent months has only reinforced that commitment.

The connections between housing and health have slowly been uncovered through painstaking research.1 With this evidence from Chelsea, it seems that COVID-19 is presenting an opportunity to further deepen our understanding of the shape and structure of a healthy community.

For more on the Chelsea story, check out this article in Shelterforce: Residents of Nonprofit Housing Have Lower Rates of COVID


  1. For more on this subject, try: Connecting The Housing And Health Dots

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