Housing and Health - Foundations Fund Research in CT to Examine Relationship

Housing and health are increasingly the focus of study, to better determine how one impacts and influences the other.  Foundations at the state and national level are among those devoting resources in Connecticut to seek answers that can ultimately guide future public policy. With a $125,000 grant from the Connecticut Health Foundation, the Open Communities Alliance will work to create better links between housing and health care and set the stage for a two-year pilot program to enable interested families of children with acute asthma to move to healthier neighborhoods.

The “Healthy Housing Vouchers” project aims to use housing policy to improve health outcomes for low-income families and reduce health disparities, tying together clinical and nonclinical factors that affect people’s well-being. 

The Open Communities Alliance project will create a streamlined process for low-income families of children with asthma to help them access affordable housing in healthier communities if they choose. It will include referrals, counseling on the impact of environmental conditions on health, help identifying potential rental locations, and assistance with security deposits, moving expenses, and supportive services as they adapt to a new community. The initial participants in the pilot program will be low-income families who receive government-funded housing vouchers and have children with acute asthma.

The Connecticut Health Foundation will also be providing a $100,000 grant to support Connecticut Voices for Children’s work to promote policies that advance health equity for children and families. The work will include conducting policy research, producing educational materials and analyses to inform policymakers about issues affecting children and families, bringing together state agencies and advocates through the Covering Connecticut’s Kids and Families Coalition, and participating in state-run councils to represent research-based policy solutions.

These projects are among  11 awarded a total of $535,000 - announced this month - by the Connecticut Health Foundation, based in Hartford.  It is the state’s largest independent health philanthropy dedicated to improving health outcomes for people of color.

Earlier this year, the Connecticut Data Collaborative and the Liberal Arts Action Lab were awarded a 500 Cities Data Challenge grant by the Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The joint proposal was one of 10 selected from a large competitive pool of applications submitted by organizations from cities across the United States.

The one-year $148,000 grant will support local research and educational outreach on housing conditions, health outcomes, and neighborhood disparities in the capital city of Hartford.

The Connecticut Data Collaborative is a nonprofit organization focused on providing public access to data, creating an ecosystem of data users, and increasing data literacy. The Liberal Arts Action Lab, launched in early 2018 by Trinity College and Capital Community College, investigates problems posed by Hartford community partners, with teams of undergraduate students and faculty fellows who conduct semester-long research projects to strengthen the city.

The Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation designed this challenge grant to encourage communities to delve into the 500 Cities open-access dataset, to design innovative solutions on social factors that influence health, and to guide local organizations on how to effectively use neighborhood-level data. The broader goal is to promote more comprehensive cross-collaborative approaches to foster a broader “Culture of Health” in urban areas.


Northeast Homes are Older, Smaller than National Average

Applications for new home construction nationwide rose to a five-year high in April, offering evidence that the post-recession housing revival will be sustained, according to Associated Press reports on U.S. Commerce Department data.  Applications for building permits – considered an indicator of future demand - rose 14.3 percent to a rate of 1.02 million, the highest since June 2008.

The new construction data builds on a home ownership foundation that varies across regions.  There are 76 million owner-occupied homes in the United States, and three-quarters of them are in metropolitan areas.  The breakdown:  22 percent in central cities, 36 percent in urban suburbs, 17 percent in rural suburbs and only 25 percent outside of metropolitan areas.home size

Not surprisingly, the oldest homes (51 years old on average) are found in the Northeast, where they are also 15 percent smaller than the national average; the newest homes are in the South – 27 percent larger than the national average and an average of 31 years old.  The average home in the west is 49 years old, in the Midwest 41 years old.

In Fairfield County, only 6.8 percent of homes were built after 2000, and in the entire state that figure is 7.1 percent, the Connecticut Post reported last month.

Nationwide, the median family home size has grown substantially in recent decades.  In 1982 it was 1,520 sq. ft.; by 2007, it was 2,227 sq. ft.

The data indicate an average of 2.6 people per household nationwide, with the percentage of households with children under age 18 greatest in the urban suburbs (37%), followed by rural suburbs (36%), central cities (33%) and those outside of metropolitan areas (30%).

The data, compiled by the websites of the National Association of Home Builders (nahb.org) and trulia.com, was featured in an infographic developed for Quicken Loans in partnership with Ghergich & Co.

The sites also compares Connecticut with national averages in key home-related categories:

  • Median Value of Owner-Occupied Housing Units: $166,900 [National Average $119,600]
  • Median Price Asked for Housing Units: $136,500 [National Average $89,600]
  • Median Household Income: $53,935  [National Average: $41,994]
  • Median Family Income $65,521 [National Average: $50,046]
  • Per-Capita Income: $28,766 [National Average: $21,587]

U.S. Census data featured by the state Department of Economic and Community Development indicates that Connecticut has 1,371,087 housing units occupied, led by the cities with the largest number of occupied housing units:  Bridgeport 51,255, New Haven, 48,877; Stamford, 47,357; Hartford, 45,124, and Waterbury, 42,761.

Towns and Cities Look to Varied Housing Options, Community Engagement

Many municipalities across Connecticut and New England are finding that community engagement – proactively, thoughtfully and creatively asking their residents for their attention and ideas about proposed housing and commercial development – pays off big time. That was evident last month at UMass/Amherst when three federal agencies – HUD, EPA and DOT – along with the Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities brought together experts and advocates from the region to discuss the best ways to merge affordable housing creation, transit and livable, sustainable and environmentally sound practices.

A growing number of organizations and government entities – municipal and regional – are using or promoting community engagement because the changing housing market is moving many more communities to increase their efforts at housing creation. A wider array of housing options – smaller, denser, more affordable, energy-efficient, walkable and, if possible, close to transit – are being utilized to meet the needs of empty-nesters, young professionals and families, and workers in a region that, despite a falloff in demand, has seen rental and purchase prices remain very high.video clip

The Partnership for Strong Communities highlighted community engagement strategies it promotes, including its new video about five very different Connecticut communities – Hamden, Old Saybrook, Colchester, Bristol and Simsbury – that have used an array of community engagement methods – charrettes, town meetings, websites and crowd-sourcing among them – to harvest ideas and achieve buy-in for their development plans.

The organization embarked on a search to discover how communities can balance multiple priorities and opinions, and achieve development that most residents can be satisfied with.  Partnership staff drove around the state and filmed interviews with about 30 individuals involved in this work.  The resulting video, along with supporting materials, reflects how five different communities with different goals, used different methods to achieve a single outcome.

Three Cities Selected for Program to Bring Housing Downtown

Connecticut Main Street Center (CMSC) has selected Middletown, Torrington and Waterbury for its new pilot program, Come Home to Downtown. CMSC developed the mixed-use real estate planning pilot program to provide selected communities with new tools to strengthen economic health and restore vitality to their downtowns, facilitating the development of viable, interesting housing opportunities while improving downtown neighborhoods. The goal of the Come Home to Downtown program is to set the stage to attract developers and “mom and pop” building owners to redevelop vacant or underutilized buildings with a mix of uses and housing choices. CMSC will also provide local public and private champions and partners with strategic tools to aldowntownlow them to create or enhance a strong downtown management program.  The Come Home to Downtown pilot was created in partnership with the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA), through a $250,000 investment using Community Investment Act (CIA) Program funding.

“Our Come Home to Downtown pilot communities were selected based on criteria we feel is vital for success, including local public and private sector leadership, a strong record of community engagement, success of previous downtown revitalization initiatives and multi-story buildings and property owners who are motivated to redevelop them,” said CMSC’s John Simone.

CMSC will work in concert with Middletown, Torrington and Waterbury, beginning with the collection of data, building analysis and the coordination of community engagement activities, exploring their downtown redevelopment issues in-depth and creating new strategies that respond to changing demographics and market dynamics.  Work will continue throughout the summer on consensus buiphoto_center_01lding, a downtown development audit for each of the towns, model building analysis, assistance to small-property owners who demonstrate a desire to redevelop their properties to include housing, and downtown management organizational development.

Connecticut Main Street Center is a statewide nonprofit that inspires great Connecticut downtowns, Main Street by Main Street. Its mission is to be the champion and leading resource for vibrant and sustainable Main Streets as foundations for healthy communities.

Modest Economic Growth Seen in 2013 Amidst Competing Indicators

The Connecticut Economic Digest, assessing the prospects for the state’s economy in the new year, has unveiled a series of observations and analyses that suggest it may be a challenging twelve months, but not without the possibility of progress, and an overall prediction of “modest growth”.  The first issue of 2013 of the journal produced by the state Departments of Labor and Department of Community and Econoecondigestmic Development, notes a range of factors that could impact economic prospects, among them:

  • Tourism: "Last year the state launched a multi-million-dollar, two-year marketing initiative to develop, foster and stimulate the state’s brand identity and bolster business and tourism. Tourism has a significant impact on the state’s economy, estimated by the University of Connecticut’s Center for Economic Analysis at $11.5 billion every year through total traveler and tourism revenue and $1.15 billion in state and local tax revenue. Travel and tourism creates more than 110,000 jobs throughout the state, or 6.5% of Connecticut’s total employment."
  • Large businesses: "The state’s “First Five” and “Next Five” job initiatives have promised substantial growth in employment and capital investment in Connecticut. At year’s end, nine business deals had been announced as part of the ongoing expansion program, which leveraged $1.3 billion in private investment. Between the nine companies — Cigna, ESPN, NBC, Alexion Pharmaceuticals, CareCentrix, Sustainable Building Systems LLC, Deloitte, Bridgewater Associates, and Charter Communications — up to 4,748 jobs are expected to be created and 11,087 retained."
  • Small Businesses: "The Small Business Express Program (EXP) provides loans and grants to Connecticut’s small businesses to spur job creation and growth and has seen vigorous activity since its inception. The state has assisted 435 companies with more than $60 million in loans and grants. With this much-needed capital, up to 1,523 jobs are expected to be created and 4,080 retained."
  • Housing: "The state’s housing market languished in 2011. Residential permit data through September 2012, however,  had grown by 32.2% compared to the same period the previous year. New homes sales grew 5.7% in September, and housing starts 3.6% in October, the highest level in four years."

The Digest noted that “the Connecticut recession from March 2008 through February 2010 saw the loss of 117,500 jobs. Jobs regained numbered 30,700 (26.1%) since February 2010 when the recovery began through November 2012, including 1,900 in the year 2012 through November (0.12%) seasonally adjusted since the beginning of the year. The private sector has regained 42,000 (38.1%) of the 110,200 private jobs lost in that same recessionary period.”  It is forecast that Connecticut will gain about 5,600 jobs or 0.3% in 2013.

In addition, the Digest pointed out that “The state’s unemployment rate, after peaking at 9.4% for five consecutive months in 2010 and falling rather steadily to 7.7% in March and April 2012, jumped unexpectedly through last summer to 9.0% and declined to 8.8% in November.” The New England Economic Partnership forecasts Connecticut’s unemployment rate will be 7.7 % in 2013.