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BMC launches community investment

Hospital links affordable housing to health

Karen Morales
BMC launches community investment
Boston Medical Center

Boston Medical Center announced this month a $6.5 million investment initiative to support affordable housing in the city and track how health care systems can reduce medical costs for families by improving housing security and community health over a five-year period.

Although the Massachusetts Department of Public Health requires hospitals in the state to invest in community health, BMC will be the first hospital to invest in affordable housing.

“There is no greater predictor of health than where you live, whether you can afford your house and live in a good quality, stable home,” said Megan Sandel, MD, MPH, a BMC pediatrician and one of the lead directors of the initiative.

Through its initiative, BMC will invest in a diverse group of community organizations and housing developers in Roxbury and Dorchester neighborhoods, where a large percentage of its patients live.

These investments include $1 million to Pine Street Inn and the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program to create a housing stabilization program; a $1 million no-interest loan and $400,000 operating subsidy to support a new healthy food market in a new housing development in Roxbury; and $800,000 over four years to rehabilitate 35 units of Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation’s housing for individuals with mental health issues on Waldeck Street in Fields Corner.

“Supporting affordable housing is the perfect complement to the medical care we offer at BMC,” said Kate Walsh, BMC’s president and CEO, in a press release. “Too often, we prescribe medicine to a family, when what they need just as much for long-term health is a prescription for stable housing.”

According to the press release, BMC intends to reinvest loan repayments, equity fund returns and tax credits from the initiative back into affordable housing for Boston.

BMC data shows that 25 percent of patients admitted to the hospital are homeless and one in three families have insecure housing or are in danger of eviction.

Dr. Sandel, who has studied the relationship between housing insecurity and health for 20 years, said that unstable housing has been tied to a wide array of health problems, including asthma, lead exposure and depression, as well as having to choose between paying for medication or rent.

“Our goal is to be able to look at this on multiple levels by tracking community health and seeing how housing partners will have more capacity,” said Sandel. “Lastly, we want to see how this may reduce health care costs for our patients by building healthy communities.”

BMC’s community partners in the affordable housing initiative include the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Boston Public Health Commission, Education and Research at Northeastern University, Nuestra Comunidad Community Development Corporation, The Community Builders, the Madison Park Community Development Corporation, and the Healthy Neighborhood Equity Fund.

“What’s present in the neighborhood is also really important,” said Sandel. “Jobs, transportation, healthy food options, places for fitness and nature. We increasingly want to be able to invest directly in the community.”

The $1 million no-interest loan will go to Good Food Markets to build a supermarket in Bartlett Station, which is currently under construction by Nuestra Comunidad and Windale Developers, and is expected to add 323 units of affordable and market-rate housing to the Dudley Square area.

The $400,000 operating subsidy from BMC will support the market over four years to sell fresh produce and create employment in the neighborhood.

“This market will hire locally, make sure food is healthy and affordable and have a cafe to sit down in and eat prepared healthy food,” said Sandel. “This is something that’s missing in Dudley Square right now.”

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