Hospitals Invest in Housing for Healthier Communities

August 21, 2018

Why are hospitals getting into the real estate business? Growing research has pointed to a link between living in areas of concentrated poverty and health. Hospitals are hoping by making a difference to how some residents in the community live, they’ll also be able to improve their health too.

Hospitals enter real estate

© Anna -

“It’s remarkably frustrating as a physician to see patients over and over and over again from these very high-risk communities,” Dr. Kelly Kelleher, director of the Center of Innovation in Pediatric Practice at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told NPR. “Houses that are falling apart, plumbing problems, mold, rat infestations, violence. You see 25 kids a day, and maybe two-thirds of them are in these desperate straits.”

Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, hopes to serve as a model to other hospitals in investing in homes in their communities. Through the hospital’s initiative, Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families, the hospital teams with city and community groups, such as United Way and local churches, to renovate vacant homes for resale, build new affordable housing, and donate funds to homeowners to fund renovations on their homes. Between 2008 and 2018, they’ve built 58 affordable housing units, renovated 71 homes, built 15 new homes, and issued 149 home improvement grants. They’ve also built a 58-unit housing development with combined office space.

“Children are affected by their neighborhood,” Kelleher says. He believes by providing children with safe and stable housing and by reducing blight in neighborhoods, they’ll be able to prevent many health conditions that are caused from living in poor conditions. Kelleher documented his plans in the August issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Hospitals in other cities are also getting into real estate to try to improve community health conditions. Similar projects are taking root in Seattle, Boston, Atlanta, and New York.

“This is a national trend,” Jason Corburn, professor of city and regional planning at the University of California, Berkeley, told NPR. “It’s happening in cities across the country.”

Dr. Megan Sandel, who directs a housing initiative at Boston Medical Center, says the Columbus model is interesting because “a hospital is literally owning and operating housing in partnership with other housing entities.” The Boston Medical Center housing initiatives are owned and operated by other community organizations.

The housing project in Columbus has cost more than $22 million so far, with the hospital’s investment at $6.6 million. But Kelleher says he believes it’ll be worth it. He already points to the number of murders that have dropped in neighborhoods where they’ve built housing, and high school graduation rates have risen.

“If we are able to show these improvements [in health] and reductions in utilization, it will be a financial benefit,” he says.