BLOG: An Investment in Us Is an Investment in Health Equity

An Investment in Us Is an Investment in Health Equity
An individual’s zip code can indicate more about their potential health outcomes than their genetic code, emphasizing the role that social factors have on health and well-being. For example, The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that someone who lives in the poorest zip code of Orleans Parish (70112) has an average life expectancy of 54.5 years while the life expectancy of an individual living in a zip code with lower rates of poverty (70124) is 80 years. That is almost a 25-year difference in average life expectancy between two communities that are less than five miles apart. The social and environmental factors of neighborhoods play a huge role in whether or not their respective residents can live healthy lives. The disinvestment in communities exacerbates the impacts of poverty on the health outcomes of individuals since the lack of investment and resources prevents people from accessing the support needed to maintain their health. One of the many strategies to address detrimental social determinants of health is to allocate additional resources to underserved communities in an appropriate manner to support the long-term sustainability and growth of the communities.

Invest in Places to Invest in People
Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), a Root Cause Coalition partner, is the largest national nonprofit community development organization in the country. LISC has strived to create economic opportunities for all people by investing in lower income communities to make them stronger and healthier. Through $1 billion of lending each year, LISC supports the development of communities across 30 urban regions and dozens of rural areas in the country. By addressing upstream factors that impact health, such as the ability to access safe and affordable housing, workforce development, and accessible transportation options, LISC aims to make an influential impact on the health and well-being of community members through community development.

One of the most recent geographic expansions LISC has pursued has been opening a new local office in Charlotte, North Carolina. A city of rich culture and strong institutions, Charlotte is wrestling with a stark opportunity gap. A study released in 2014 ranked Charlotte 50th out of 50 among America’s largest cities in terms of upward mobility, meaning that a child born in poverty in Charlotte has a significantly harder time getting out of poverty than a child from any other large city in the United States (Equality of Opportunity Project). LISC has partnered with the Foundation for the Carolinas, the City of Charlotte, and numerous other organizations to leverage their collective resources to create opportunities for economic mobility for the city’s residents. With a strategic braiding of national expertise and resources and local capacity, the community development organization will focus on investing in opportunities to support communities that have not grown with the rest of the city of Charlotte.

Knowing that safe, affordable, and stable housing is a key component of supporting the economic mobility and health of communities, LISC and its partners, notably the Foundation for the Carolinas, have built the Charlotte Housing Opportunity Investment Fund to invest a target of $50 million in mixed-income housing in communities of opportunity. To maximize the health impact of the Fund, LISC and Atrium Health, a major health system in the Southeast region, are building a system that will seamlessly connect the housing residents to resources to address social determinants of health. Although it will require a fair amount of work to coordinate funding and services, the innovative partnership will invest crucial resources into revitalizing historically disinvested communities.

People are at the Heart of Community Development
None of the work LISC does could be done without the support and engagement of people and organizations in the communities being developed and invested in. According to Julia Ryan, Vice President for Health, if community members are part of the planning process to develop the community, then the anchor institutions and public sector will be able to more effectively invest resources and make the value of resources go further. Community engagement in the community development planning process is crucial to ensure that external organizations invest into communities in ways that align with the community members’ priorities and interests.

Organizations such as LISC and other Root Cause Coalition partners are making strides at improving the health and well-being of communities across the country. We can support historically disinvested communities by working in partnership, across sectors and with community members, to devise innovative solutions to address health inequities, but this is not possible without continued investment in communities. While community development organizations, such as LISC, are intentionally focused on strategically infusing resources into communities that need them the most, every organization should consider its impact and potential to support under-resourced communities. Only when everyone has equitable access to resources and opportunities will health equity be achieved.

Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC)
Together with residents and partners, LISC forges resilient and inclusive communities of opportunity across America – great places to live, work, visit, do business and raise families. Since 1979, LISC has invested $20 billion to build or rehab 400,500 affordable homes and apartments and develop 66.8 million square feet of retail, community and educational space.

Thank you to Julia Ryan, Vice President for Health, for informing this blog post.