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Cynthia Telles: Housing as a Driver of Community Health

Across the United States, a person’s zip code is a better predictor of their overall health and healthcare quality than the makeup of their genetic code. Surprisingly, predispositions for disease or inherited conditions are much less impactful when compared to the locations in which people live and work. For example, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The National Center for Health Statistics, and countless other studies have demonstrated how individuals living even a few miles away from each other experience drastically different health experiences and life expectancies.

While there is still much to learn about why such disparities exist, we as a society do recognize that differences in elements like lifestyle, ethnicity, education, race, housing, and income are responsible for many of the differences among the American people’s well-being and health.

Such a reality is considerably truer for those Americans who do not have a place to call home. A home provides a stable and safe refuge, and the health of those without homes is tremendously at risk. According to the CDC, those dealing with housing insecurity are about twice as likely as those with secure housing to report poor health or to delay doctors’ visits due to high cost.

That is why Kaiser Permanente’s announcement to launch three new initiatives to improve health outcomes by creating stable housing for vulnerable populations is so important. The three initiatives include:

1) Investment in a 41-unit apartment building in Oakland and preserving it for long-term affordability;

2) Launching a nationwide, $100 million loan fund to create and to preserve affordable, multifamily rental homes;

3) Ending homelessness for more than 500 Oakland-area residents.

As a member of the board of directors of Kaiser Foundation Health Plans and Hospitals, and longtime chair of the board’s community health committee, Dr. Cynthia Telles is encouraged by these critical initiatives as addressing housing security is one critical aspect to fulfilling Kaiser’s mission driving improved health outcomes for all people and communities.