A person walks by New Pennley Place, a site of affordable housing, in Pittsburgh's East Liberty Neighborhood. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

It’s not generally thought of as a medical issue. And yet a stable and affordable home is perhaps the most critical first step in building a healthy lifestyle.

To help more Pittsburghers take this step, UPMC announced its membership last week in a new nationwide network of healthcare systems aimed at expanding access to affordable housing.

An offshoot of The Center for Community Investment (CCI) at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Washington D.C., the Accelerating Investments for Healthy Communities (AIHC) network allows the participants — including Boston Medical Center and Dignity Health in San Bernardino — to connect and share policies and practices that could be applied in their home communities.

“Hospitals and health systems can play an important role in creating robust community investment systems that reduce health inequities and help people thrive,” explains Robin Hacke, executive director of CCI. “This initiative paves the way for hospitals to collaborate with new partners to unlock capital and address shortages of affordable homes in their regions.”

In addition to fellow medical professionals, the new network will also include a broad range of private and government participants who can advise on the best ways to combine money from the health system with other available resources like foundation funding and affordable housing tax credits.

Speaking to NEXTpittsburgh, UPMC President of Government Programs John Lovelace explains that the main work of the network will be regular national meetings where different providers can compare notes on which approaches are most, or least, effective.

The hope is that UPMC’s networking within AIHC will lead to ideas for new local initiatives.

UPMC has made affordable housing more of a focus in the last decade, both in their own programs and in their charitable giving. With this new step, Lovelace says they stand to benefit from the knowledge of medical systems that have been working in the space for generations.

“This is really about creating more assets in the community,” says Lovelace. “We can learn from each other and build more capacity across the board.”

For UPMC, the push for more housing access is first and foremost a business decision: “Investing in housing pays off for us,” says Lovelace. “It reduces unnecessary health care expenses while improving people’s health.”

Furthermore, being surrounded by communities that are healthy and vibrant will make for happier, more productive employees and make it that much easier to attract the best talent.

But alongside any business benefits, Lovelace says the push for affordable housing is an excellent opportunity to give back to a city and region that have given them so much.

“Health systems are major economic engines in the communities in which they reside,” says Lovelace. “We take up a lot of space, and we have a lot of obligation.”

The AIHC network is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.