Using Data And Partnerships To Add Housing And Improve Health

stacks of pamphlets read

From the United States comes an announcement about using data to drive health care planning at a local level. The data holder, UnitedHealthcare, will work with housing authorities and federally qualified health centres to develop and implement plans at a community level. This represents an expansion of UnitedHealthcare’s existing partnership with housing authorities. The first phase involves five communities, with five more planned in the second phase and a further 15 in the future.

The data will give local housing and health care agencies insight about the health challenges specific to their community. At the community level, this means planners will be able to find out whether a specific disease (e.g. diabetes, which is a health issue across all housing authorities), is more or less common at the local level than nationwide. Knowing how the national trends manifest themselves at a local level should help to decide how to spend resources locally to improve local scores. Read more at HealthCare Finance: UnitedHealthcare introduces community-based collaborative to improve health outcomes, equity

The article is further evidence of work following passage of the Affordable Health Care Act. Media have well-covered the personal insurance aspects, but the Act also acknowledges that most of what contributes to health happens outside hospitals and medical centres. The focus of this post is three external factors: poverty, access to nutritious food and housing.

Targeting Poverty

The partnership between housing authorities and UnitedHealthcare certainly focusses on poverty, as tenants in public housing have very low incomes. Federally qualified health centres, the third group in the partnership, also serve people with very low incomes.

Nutritious Food

Accessing nutritious food underlies many health issues. These include diabetes and chronic conditions as well as maternal and child health, all prevalent among tenants in public housing at a national level). Supply and price are frequently identified as barriers, as grocery stores are often not easy to reach from public housing projects1. There are numerous accounts about local garden plots and greenhouses, which offer hope on a number of levels in addition to the nutrition benefits2 Programs like these also help the affordable housing problem by reducing food costs and making scarce dollars available for housing, at least in theory.


Having housing authorities in the partnership is critical because they are the gatekeepers for housing subsidies, which help people with very low incomes to cover their housing costs. They also manage public housing, where rents are geared to incomes.

Public housing is notoriously underfunded. A lack of maintenance and renovation also translates to housing that contributes to poor health (think mold, lead paint and asbestos). Public programs and policies direct housing authorities toward redevelopment, using LIHTC and project based housing vouchers.

This solution is not without its difficulties, which has documented at length elsewhere3. Here, however, we’re drawing attention to research which looks at the potential for such redevelopments to improve health outcomes. Read more at Shelterforce: Housing Design That Advances Health


  1. Data can also be a valuable ally to affordable and accessible food campaigns. Data evaluating two pilot projects led to the creation of Food on the Move. Details of data collection and analysis were published in the National Library of Medicine. A subscription is needed to read the full article, but the abstract, which gives a high level summary, is here: Translating Research-Funded Mobile Produce Market Trials Into Sustained Public Health Programs : Food on the Move
  2. For an example, see Christian Science Monitor: This community garden in Southeast Washington grows far more than food. And for a demonstration of how data and funding can be combined, see: Singapore Shows What Serious Urban Farming Looks Like
  3. Try: Can Two Lame US Public Housing Substitutes Limp Effectively Together?